FOLLANSBEE - About 300 pupils from Follansbee Middle School walked to school Thursday morning in observance of International Walk to School Month and as part of an effort to encourage all children to engage in more physical activity.
The school was among more than 3,000 schools throughout the U.S. to observe the event, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School.
In its 13th year, the event also is observed in more than 40 countries, according to the center, which is maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.
WALKING TO SCHOOL — Follansbee Mayor Tony Paesno and other local officials joined pupils and staff from Follansbee Middle School in walking to school Thursday morning as part of International Walk to School Month.
-- Warren Scott
It was the first year for Follansbee's observance, through which children in grades five through eight rode their regular school buses to the Follansbee City Building and then walked about three-fourths of a mile along Main Street to their school.
It was scheduled for Tuesday, the official date for International Walk to School Day, but was moved to Thursday due to the weather.
The walk was voluntary, and most students participated, said Dave Secrist, the school's wellness instructor.
Each participant received a bottle of water and a reusable water bottle with logos promoting walking.
Such materials were funded through the same $96,000 Federal Highway Administration grant that allowed the city to replace about 2 miles of sidewalk along both sides of Main Street between Mark Avenue and Allegheny Street, Allegheny Street from Linden Avenue to Main Street and several side streets.
The intent was to improve the paths for children walking to the middle school and Jefferson Primary School, said Mayor Tony Paesano, who also participated in the walk.
Paesano said the goal of the Safe Routes to School program is to reduce childhood obesity by encouraging regular exercise. Secrist said fifth- and sixth-graders at the school received pedometers through the program to count their steps while walking at school and at home.
Also participating was Jim Piccirillo, president of the Brooke County Board of Education, who said, "I think anything we can do to encourage kids to participate in physical activity is a good thing. I commend the mayor and council for doing this."
Kim Johnson, the school's principal, was among faculty members who accompanied the youth. She said many of her staff parked their vehicles at the school and walked to the Follansbee City Building so they could join the children.
For many adult participants, the event stirred memories of walking to school as children.
Johnson, who is from New Jersey, said she walked to and from school as a child, not only at the beginning and end of the school day but also for lunch. There were no school buses for her school district, and students who lived farther from school relied on public transportation, she said.
But walking to school has become less common for various reasons.
Ron Ujcich, Brooke County Schools transportation director, said the number of students who walk to school has dropped each year and he estimates less than 10 percent currently walk to school.
Ujcich said the large number of single or working parents is a key factor. Many are concerned about their children arriving home safely because they aren't there to see them, he noted.
Ujcich said that also has resulted in school buses dropping off children closer to home, though road conditions also are a factor. For example, roads without sidewalks can become covered with heavy snow in winter, which could lead many children to walk along the sides of roads and in the path of passing vehicles.
Ujcich said state officials recommend bus stops not be less than two-tenths of a mile from each other, but the county has veered from that at times depending on road conditions and the age of the children involved.
He said it's unfortunate that such concerns have resulted in fewer children walking to school because many children require more exercise than they get.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)