Learning the Skills to Be Active and Safe Around Town
The town of New Market, Maryland is compact with the local elementary and middle school located within walking or biking distance of several hundred homes. There are four neighborhoods in particular within ¾ of a mile of New Market Elementary School that are designated as walking neighborhoods without bus service. However, for a variety of reasons, most of the students in those neighborhoods are driven to school in private cars, with only some students walking or biking to school. The New Market Elementary School PTA took on the Fire Up Your Feet fall challenge as a way to promote physical activity and to encourage families to try out walking and biking as a way to get around town.
While the school community is familiar with Safe Routes to School and the school system promotes its policies, parents have still met resistance when requesting improvements in walking and biking safety in New Market. However, there have been some steps towards success evidenced by parents in two communities who used Safe Routes to School guidelines to lobby the county for additional crosswalks. What better way to build on these advances than to educate and encourage parents and students about the many benefits that come with walking and biking to school and how to do it safely.
New Market Elementary School kicked off the fall challenge by participating in International Walk & Bike to School Day on October 5. It was the first time in several years that the school participated. More than 100 students walked or biked to school that day from all four neighborhoods that are located within walking distance. In addition, several parents drove their children to a designated meeting point so that students who lived farther from school could also participate. Two sheriff’s deputies came and spoke to the students about pedestrian safety, and a representative from a local bike shop came and spoke to the students about basic bike maintenance and safety. It was a great success that set the tone for the rest of the month’s challenge, invigorating the whole school community to start moving and keep moving.
Students learn basic bike maintenance and safety.
Once a week during the month of October, the PTA offered a Track Morning for an hour before school began. Parent volunteers, PE teachers and other staff participated and supervised students. Students participated in an organized, dynamic warm up and then had the opportunity to walk or run the school track with friends. All students were encouraged to participate during PE classes as well.
The whole school community was encouraged to take part in the challenge. Students and their families took ownership of their physical activity goals as they were asked to track their activity through a paper log of the online form, with parent volunteers logging the data. It was truly a community wide challenge.
The PTA’s Facebook page was used to promote the challenge and inform parents about the benefits of physical activity. Students were motivated to walk short distances that they were used to riding in a car. Parents reported that their children would ask to walk to the bus stop rather than drive or ask to be let out of the car so they could walk a short distance home. These same parents felt more comfortable allowing their children to be active in and around town because the children had acquired pedestrian and bicycling safety knowledge.
Katie Malone, a New Market PTA member shared that, “Participating in the Fire Up Your Feet challenge provided a cohesive focus on promoting physical activity among our students. The students enjoyed logging their hours to meet their goals. They were highly motivated by the idea of earning money to purchase PE and recess equipment.” New Market Elementary PTA’s goal through the challenge was to motivate students to get moving, and to equip them with the knowledge they needed to get moving safely, benefitting not only the students but the community as a whole.