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Encouraging active school transportation

Encouraging active school transportation

Eighteen percent of School District 46 students travel to school on foot, according to a 2020 District survey. The Langdale Elementary Parents Advisory Committee (PAC) would like that number increased for its school and others. On Oct. 29, the Langdale-based PAC hosted an online discussion to look at encouraging active transportation to school to develop that healthy habit.
The session, hosted with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), featured experts on youth health and well-being. Dr. Guy Faulkner and Dr. Mariana Brussoni are supporters of having children walk, cycle, or use other self-propelled methods to travel to their classrooms. Dr. Faulkner said research shows that students who do this are three times more likely to be meeting the Canadian government’s recommended activity level for youth. That guideline is for young people to participate in at least one hour of vigorous exercise daily.
Faulkner said that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on youth physical activity levels. He noted such activities are often focused on scheduled programs, such as a hockey league or a gymnastics class for most young people. With many of those activities restricted to help reduce the spread of the virus, the resulting lack of involvement in active play is negatively impacting the physical, social, and emotional health of youngsters. In addition, many parents opt to drive their children to activities and school. This also reduces opportunities for physical exercise.
To change the trend of children travelling in family vehicles to walking within their community, Dr. Brussoni encouraged parents to “shift thinking from protection to trust.” In her view, decisions about driving children to school are made by parents based on convenience or their anxieties around protecting their children from all risks. Brussoni noted that by removing the opportunity to be active, parents are contributing to an increase in childhood obesity. She said poor physical fitness and being overweight have higher negative impacts on a child’s life than the risk of being injured due to being active.
Brussoni encouraged the parents and community representatives participating in the session to think about “one thing you can do to support independent travel to school.” Ideas came forward, including requesting a barrier between vehicles and pedestrians on Highway 101 and adding a crossing guard at YMCA Road in Langdale. Other suggestions, like “walking school buses,” were raised. These involve children walking in groups, with or without adult supervision. This adds the “safety in numbers” factor and can help develop leadership skills as older students can look out for younger ones.
Parent participants raised concerns regarding student safety when travelling to school on foot. Some identified a lack of pedestrian infrastructure, like sidewalks and signal-controlled road crossings on walking routes to their local schools. The issue of wildlife encounters was another concern.
Lianne Carley of VCH participated in the event and encouraged schools to consider applying for the provincial government’s Active School Travel Pilot Program. She noted that up to $10,000 is available to applicants to develop and implement active school travel plans. More information is available at www.planh.ca. Connie Jordison

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