Walking and Rolling to Better Health and Grades

3girlswalkingWe know that walking, biking and physical activity of any kind is great for kids’ bodies – and brains. Research shows physical activity for children increases concentration and can even boost test scores. It can also reduce stress and anxiety, something we’re seeing increase among school-age children.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, “…physical activity can have an impact on cognitive skills, attitudes and academic behavior, all of which are important components of improved academic performance. These include enhanced concentration and attention as well as improved classroom behavior.”

Additionally, Active Living Research says, “In some cases, more time in physical education leads to improved grades and standardized test scores.”

For all these reasons, Healthy Central Florida (HCF) has continued to focus on getting more children physically active by walking and biking to school.  To do that, at the beginning of each school year HCF hosts a Walk and Bike to School Workshop, and brings together teachers, principals, parents, police, elected officials and local walk/bike advocates.

This year, nearly 50 community leaders met at the Winter Park Community Center on September 20 to discuss the challenges and opportunities to getting more kids moving in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville.

2013-10-09-08-29-08-300x225In addition to sharing best practices and encouraging collaboration between school and community leaders, the workshop also offered each local elementary and middle school a mini-grant of $1500 to promote, measure and address the barriers to kids actively commuting to school – $15,000 total to ten schools.

HCF conducted research with parents at area schools and the number one reasons for not letting children walk and bike to school is the fear of fast traffic and safety concerns.

So, for the first time, in order to obtain this grant, schools were asked to conduct a “Walking Audit” near their campus.  Participants include the principal or vice principal, PTO leaders, students, city traffic engineers, police, and HCF staff to provide guidance.

“Until we address or remove the true barriers, we can’t expect parents to feel comfortable letting their children walk and bike to school,” said Jill Hamilton Buss, executive director of Healthy Central Florida.  “And that’s why we added the walking audit component to the grant deliverables this year.  We need to begin addressing the real barriers and not just promoting the behavior of walking and biking to school.  By getting teams of people walking together with kids, we can identify problems and craft solutions.”

Special thanks to the Community Leadership Panel Members and Workshop Presenters:
Joie Cadle – Orange County School Board Representative, District 1
Jay Conn – Maitland Parks and Recreation, Director
Noel Cooper – Maitland Public Works, Transportation
Amanda Day – Executive Director, Bike Walk Central Florida
Rick Geller – parent, Bike Walk Central Florida board member
Joy Goff-Marcil – Maitland City Council, former Walking School Bus coordinator
Lieutenant Louis Grindle – Maitland Police Department
Sergeant Stanford Locke – Winter Park Police Department
Keith Moore  – Winter Park Public Works, Transportation