In early May, we worked closely with the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School team, and a number of schools throughout New Bedford to celebrate our 5th Annual Walk/Bike to School Day. Pulaski Elementary was highlighted, featuring the kickoff of their walking school bus with eight students – which has since grown to add even more students. Fifth and sixth graders also met to walk and dance in the gym, as a part of their morning routine, following the initial walk.
Other participating schools included Roosevelt Middle School, Betsy B. Winslow, Lincoln, Ashley, Carlos Pacheco, Renaissance, John Avery Parker, Casimir Pulaski, Hayden McFadden, and John Hannigan Elementary.
Since initially celebrating Walk/Bike to School Day in 2010, a number of schools have included more wellness activities in their curriculum, increased recess time, discussed pedestrian safety, and continued to encourage physical activity. The installation of more than 160 bike racks this past fall at all New Bedford schools has also increased the number of children biking to school each day.
Participation in this event continues to increase each year. This past month, Parker Elementary School successfully kicked off their walking school bus which currently has 14 participants, and this year Roosevelt Elementary had over 100 students signed up to participate in Walk/Bike to School Day.
Earlier this year, we surveyed all the schools in the district to determine how many students are walking and biking to school and to see if there are specific neighborhoods that would benefit from walking school buses, or bike clubs. Through these surveys, the support of the New Bedford Public Schools and Safe Routes to School, a number of schools are hoping to begin walking school buses by next fall. We are hoping to send out a follow-up survey next year to track changes and improvements, and continue to improve planning.
Walk and Bike to School Day is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Mass in Motion Program and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School Program, which is federally funded by the Federal Highway Division. The program is designed to create safer streets, promote physical activity, and build sustainable environments in over 170 communities throughout Massachusetts. Mass in Motion works with communities across the Commonwealth to promote healthy eating and active living for youth and adults.
The Safe Routes to School campaign works with cities and other organizations to build infrastructure such as bike paths and sidewalks, and to deliver education and awareness to drivers about driving without distractions, slowing down, and respecting pedestrians and cyclists.