Walking to school is a great way for children to be physically active. Not only is it associated with improved physical and mental health, but it also contributes to safer school zones, by reducing traffic volumes at and around schools.
The Leeds, Grenville & Lanark (LGL) District Health Unit, in partnership with active school travel stakeholders in Brockville, Smiths Falls and Mississippi Mills, was successful in receiving $100,000 over two years to pilot the “Walking the Rural Way” Project. This project will operationalize “community tailored” Walking School Bus (WSB) models, using trained adult leaders to walk with elementary school children, on established routes to school. Similar to a yellow school bus, a WSB has designated “bus stops” and “pick up times”, where children and families are encouraged to join.
The project is supported by Ontario Active School Travel, a program of Green Communities Canada with funding from the Government of Ontario. “The goal of this project is to increase active school travel opportunities for elementary school students by strengthening our partnerships, and creating environments that support and encourage students, and families to be active on their school journey”, says Tawnya Boileau, School Health Coordinator with the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit. “As a result, the project has the potential to develop a sustainable, evidence- informed model that can be expanded within our communities and shared beyond.”
Six schools in Brockville, Mississippi Mills and Smiths Falls will participate in the first year of the “Walking the Rural Way” Project.
Twelve grants totalling $1.15 M were approved by Green Communities Canada in Spring 2018 for local projects that will make a lasting contribution to active school travel through enhanced partnerships, capacity building, policy change, resource commitments, and on-the-ground activities. The projects are located in all regions of the province, with proponents and partners from diverse sectors, including school boards, student transportation consortia, municipalities, non-governmental organizations, and health units.
Project elements include school travel planning, education and encouragement activities like the walking school bus, seasonal events like Winter Walk Day, cycling education, communications, and infrastructure investments like wayfinding signs and bike racks.
A second call for proposals for additional projects will take place in Fall, 2018. Funding is made possible thanks to a three-year $3.5 million transfer payment agreement between the Government of Ontario and Green Communities Canada, a national non-profit organization which has been a leader in promoting active school travel in Ontario for more than two decades.
The Ontario Active School Travel Council is being launched to address strategic challenges and opportunities for recreating a culture of every day walking and wheeling on the school journey. The multi-sectoral Council is chaired by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Active school travel has declined sharply in most Ontario communities in recent decades. Green Communities Canada and its many partners are working to reverse that decline and make active transportation the “new normal.” Active school travel has numerous benefits, including physical and mental health, improved cognitive function and school performance, social development, an increase in independent mobility, increased happiness, reduced traffic and school zone congestion, reduced emissions, and improved air quality.
For more information regarding the “Walking the Rural Way” Project, please contact [email protected] or (613) 345-5685 ext. 2226.