“The audits are the first step to developing a plan to increase the number of children who walk or bike to school in each of the communities,” said Jim Harrington, Building Healthy Communities Consultant. “Physical activity is important for students' physical health, mental health, and academic success. Kids should be getting 60 minutes every day. The minutes children spend walking or biking to school add up quickly to help them get the exercise they need.”
Harrington said there were common themes among the three audits. “The main challenges we identified were traffic speeds on highways, unsafe crossings, and congested parent/student pick up areas,” said Harrington. “Plowing of routes in winter is another concern and our findings also showed a need for more pedestrian signage and painting on the roads for safer crossing.”
According to Michigan Safe Routes to School, 70% of parents walked or bike to school as children but only 18% of their children walk or bike to school today. Three out of five children age 9 to 13 don't get any physical activity outside school physical education. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control predicts that one-third of children born since 2000 will become diabetic unless Americans start eating less and exercising more.
“It was really very interesting to experience what walking to school is like for students,” said Monique Dean, Pellston Elementary School Principal. “I can see that just a few improvements will increase safety for students and peace of mind for parents.”
The SRTS Teams in Boyne City, Gaylord, and Pellston will be meeting soon to review the findings in detail and begin to develop their local action plans. State and federal grants are available to fund sidewalks, trails, etc identified in action plans.
A grant from Michigan Department of Community Health funds Safe Routes to School projects at six schools: Boyne City Elementary School, Boyne City Middle School, Gaylord Intermediate School, Gaylord Middle School, Pellston Elementary School, and Pellston Middle School.
The Health Department is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For additional information, call Harrington at 989-619-4204.