PINEHURST- Tie your shoe laces, kids, and climb aboard Pinehurst Elementary School’s “Walking School Bus.”
The “Walking School Bus” kicks off Sept.12 at Camelot Park and will continue every Wednesday of the fall through Dec. 19. The first “bus” (a trail of walking or bike riding students and accompanying adults) leaves at 7 a.m., and the last one leaves at 7:15. This fall, the school day begins at 7:30 a.m.
The “Walking School Bus” was created through Pinehurst Walks!, a program designed to encourage elementary school students to walk and bicycle to school.
The program began in 2008 through a Fit Community grant from the N.C. Health & Wellness Trust Fund and is a partnership of Pinehurst Elementary School, FirstHealth of the Carolinas and the Pinehurst Parks and Recreation Department.
During the program’s fourth year, students will be encouraged to walk to school in the fall and spring. Each child will be given a punch card and rewarded with a fun incentive after walking to school for eight weeks.
Special guest walkers such as “Buddy” the dog and “Finny,” the Pinehurst Elementary School dolphin mascot, will bring added excitement to the morning walks. Fresh fruit will also be available each morning to reinforce the importance of healthy eating and physical activity.
“Studies have shown that participation in physical activity is positively related to academic performance in children,” says Pinehurst Principal Sara Bigley, “and walking to school is a great way to get students active and prepared to learn when they get to school.”
The students will also have the chance to gain sense of independence and learn navigation and safety skills. But the most important thing for them is having fun.
“It is great to see the kids laughing and having fun walking to school,” says Melissa Watford, project director for Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities and parent volunteer. “They experience so much more when they are participating than they do sitting in the car line waiting to be dropped off.”
Currently, the program is run through parent and community volunteers and the incentives and fruit are funded through the Pinehurst Elementary PTA. The program runs strong, with close to 100 students participating each week.
Pinehurst Elementary is one of seven schools that have been recognized as a community success story by the National Center for Safe Routes to School
More recently, the school was featured in a published report about Fit Community Initiatives throughout North Carolina. As stated in the report, “Pinehurst Elementary School’s initiative has been a model for changing the environment around the school, and for shifting attitudes to view active travel as a school norm.”
This recognition shows not only the success of Pinehurst Walks!, but also of Moore County and the support behind the community, according to Watford.
“Every time I see a child on the greenway trail or someone biking to school, it just warms my heart,” she says. “The changes at Pinehurst Elementary have paved the way for safe routes to school projects across Moore County, including projects at Aberdeen and Southern Pines Elementary schools and the result has been a healthier and more active community.”
For more information, or to volunteer, contact Melissa Watford at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view the Fit Community Publication on Pinehurst Walks! visit www.activelivingbydesign.org/fit_community_resources