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Iowa City elementary students forgo buses and walk to school

BY LAUREN COFFEY | MAY 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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Thirty-one children crunched across the dewy green grass as their school day was about to begin. With flushed cheeks and smiles on their faces, they reached out their hands to receive pedometers from an adult. The children exchanged their stories of walking or riding their bikes to school, which is now possible thanks to the pilot phase of the Walking School Bus program in two Iowa City elementary schools.

The weeklong program kicked off Monday morning at Twain and Horn Elementary Schools after the two were chosen to receive $1,200 each to test the program.

The money is part of a larger grant given to Iowa through the Affordable Care Act — the Community Transformation grant. The grant aims to look at various environmental factors to help improve the health of the community, such as walking to school instead of taking a school bus.

"We're trying to get back to making walking part of a routine," said Doug Beardsley, the director of the Johnson County Department of Public Health. "There is an issue with obesity, and so much of it is tied into activity. Nutrition and activity, they go hand in hand."

There were various routes mapped-out for the children to walk or ride their bikes. The five groups of children were paired with an adult, or a "walking bus driver," who led the students to their school. This program will last until May 17, and then the school will decide if it would like to continue with the program.

Horn Elementary Principal Kristin Cannon said the school originally wanted to have the program last year, but because of the closing of Roosevelt Elementary, Horn Elementary received more students and parents that were supportive of the idea. She is excited at the success of the program that is now in place.

"Last year, we talked about a walking school bus initiative, and we looked for parent support but didn't really receive any," Cannon said. "This year, we got a new population of students, and we were approached to have this program. Today has just been a huge success."

Emily Britt, a parent who volunteered as a walking bus driver, said she liked the idea of being able to have a parent with the children to help with safety, and she said the program is also beneficial for the children to start their day off with exercise.

"Just even this morning, all the kids were so excited to see their classmates," Britt said. "It's important to have that social interaction with their peers both inside and outside of the classroom. I also think it's absolutely great to have them get exercise first thing in the morning."

Fourth-grade student Claire Gienapp said that she likes the social aspect of walking to school.

"I got to walk in a group of people, and I was a little bit excited," she said. "I knew some of the people, and I didn't know some of them. I would tell my friends to do it, too, so I could see my friends while I walk."


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