School is a place of learning many things, including values. And I think we all agree the best way to learn values is by example, rather than just by instruction. But there are subtle lessons being taught by parents which go in the wrong direction.
These lessons are embodied in how children get to school. In an urban environment, it should be trivial to locate schools in the neighbourhood, within walking distance. But with our publicly-funded school system split into two mutually-exclusive boards, the result is often that kids are bused past the nearest school to attend one in the other system. While I believe this could easily be resolved, there seems to be too much inertia for government to even talk about addressing this now, so I’ll let that pass for today.
|I sourced this apropos gag here.|
Yet there are still many children living near enough to walk to school. The school my daughters attend has no busing at all, drawing only from the local neighbourhood. So that means all the students walk to and from school, right? Sadly, wrong; instead, many are driven to and from by parents, losing the opportunity for a healthy walk. And those parents seem unable to follow simple rules and guidelines the school sends home several times a year: don’t park in the fire lane, don’t double-park, don’t leave your car idling. By putting convenience before basic safety health, and rules, parents are teaching selfishness by example, while failing to build up the healthy habit of walking or cycling.
Much of this is a perception issue: that our streets are unsafe for children, yet safe for cars. Statistics don’t support this. And even if the work schedule requires driving the kids to school instead of walking them, it is very easy, not to mention healthier, to park a block away and walk a little bit, instead of adding to the traffic chaos surrounding the school.
Children, to be healthy in body and mind, need physical activity. This should be a mix of organized sports, free play, and active transportation: getting to and from places on foot or by bike. 58% percent of parents walked to school when they were young, yet only 28% of students do now. This shows that our kids are in serious danger of not getting sufficient daily physical activity, leaving them at greater risk of poor health, poor school performance, and building poor life habits.
In Barrie, a number of caring community members and stakeholders have formed the Active Transportation Working Group to help foster more use of feet and pedals and less use of the automobile. One important and exciting initiative is the School Travel Planning Pilot Project for which three Barrie schools have been selected. What is learned from this pilot will be used to determine how best to move forward and engage more local schools in promoting active transportation within their communities.
A mix of approaches is needed, some relating to infrastructure, like traffic calming and bike lanes, while others relate to education and culture. Simply learning that it takes less time to get door-to-door by bike than by car for distances under 5 km might help people re-think their transportation choices. If you currently drive your kids to school, see if you can find opportunities to turn some (or all) of that daily trip into a healthy walk, instead.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.
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