Sunshine and cool breezes made for ideal “Walktober” weather as nearly 2,000 students throughout all eight Winter Park area elementary and middle schools, walked or rolled to school to commemorate International Walk to School Day on October 7.
In all, 1,948 energized Walk n’ Rollers— 1,362 pedestrians, 526 bicyclists and 60 students on skateboards/scooters/rollerblades participated, surpassing Healthy Central Florida’s baseline (a count taken a week earlier) participation by 66%.
Not included in these tallies are hundreds of parents and younger siblings who accompanied their Walk n’ Rollers, easily adding hundreds more to the total. This celebrated day is typically the only day of the school year when bike/ped participants outnumber cars. This held true for 2015 with 1,392 fewer cars than most days in school drop-off queues—a reduction of 28%.
At Lakemont Elementary School, more than 200 students, parents, teachers, and advocates participated, including elected officials. Winter Park Vice Mayor Sarah Sprinkel and City Commissioner Greg Seidel walked and talked with students and parents. Sprinkel recalled her days teaching kindergarten at Lakemont Elementary School. “I used to ride my bike to work every day,” said Sprinkel. “It was wonderful.”
“Parents were having as much fun as kids were today,” said Jill Hamilton Buss, executive director of Healthy Central Florida, which helped organize and promote the international event. “In addition to being fun, there are many other benefits, including enhanced learning and retention, improved behavior and better health.”
International Walk to School Day is also a great opportunity to raise awareness for pedestrian safety. Healthy Central Florida and organizations such as Best Foot Forward, a campaign also supported by the Winter Park Health Foundation, continue to work with municipalities and other community organizations to identify and address challenges such as traffic, speed, lack of sidewalks, crosswalks and trails as well as motorist behavior.
The event was promoted with banners, yard signs, school marquees, school newsletters, posters, social media and phone messaging from the principals. Seven schools taught pedestrian safety during their PE classes, empowering pedestrians to be safer on their active commute.
“The success of our efforts and the increase in participation each year is due to a total community effort,” said Hamilton Buss. “Our principals, teachers, city leaders, elected officials, parents and advocates continue to work together to promote safety, health and student success.”