At an early morning rally before school started today, students from San Francisco’s Longfellow Elementary School in the Excelsior district gathered to celebrate Walk to School Day and the launch of the Safe Routes to School program.
While the adults present may have been excited about the policy details – a $500,000 grant for five schools this year, 15 schools next year, and an opportunity to make strides in encouraging walking and biking to school – the children got the message loud and clear that walking, especially with hordes of peers, is fun business.
Warming up with a call-and-response cheer of "Longfellow: WALKS!", students welcomed guest speakers to the celebration, including Jacquie Chavez, co-founder of Walk to Win Wednesdays and mother of a first-grader at Longfellow.
"Remember, it’s good for you, it’s good for your community, it’s good for the planet. Get out and walk to school," said Chavez. "It’s actually pretty fun. I do it every day, not just on Wednesdays." Chavez organizes a similar walk every Wednesday: "I hope see you out there too," she told the crowd.
The Department of Public Health’s Ana Validzic told the gathered schoolchildren that Safe Routes to School organizers are working "to make sure that everyone can walk and bike" safely, and have "a lot of fun while they’re doing it."
Principal Phyllis Matsuno pointed out another benefit: "We can concentrate so much better in our learning," Matsuno said, when the day starts with exercise like walking or biking.
With the start of the school day fast approaching, the students got to hear one more short speech, from Supervisor John Avalos. He congratulated Longfellow and presented the school with a leadership certificate for its "efforts to promote active, healthy lifestyle, reduce pollution, teach children to walk safely, and make our streets safer for everyone, and address global climate change while reducing traffic on our roads."
Longfellow was among the five schools chosen for the Safe Routes to School program this year because over half of its students live within a mile from school, so walking or biking is a viable option. Today, instead of waiting in the usual block-long line of cars wrapped around the block, students discovered that the walkers were the ones having all the fun.