“Come on, hurry up! Hurry up!” Malcolm Welter called, running hand-in-hand with a classmate to Hiawatha Community School.
Malcolm, 4, was an eager participant in the school’s celebration of International Walk and Bike to School Day on Wednesday. His mom reminded him it’s not a race, but he still jogged for most of the five blocks between the Howe campus and Hiawatha campus.
Malcolm was one of more than 8,000 Minneapolis Public Schools students, family members and staff from more than 30 schools that participated in the annual event that promotes the benefits of walking and biking to school.
Jenny Bordon, a safe routes to school specialist with the district, helps map visually and culturally interesting paths for students to follow.
“Minneapolis is such a beautiful city for walking,” Bordon said, “so we assign beautiful routes everywhere.”
The event was the first of three designated walk and bike to school days that the district has organized for the school year.
Some schools opt to hold Bus Stop and Walk days on a regular basis (weekly or monthly). On these days, the buses stop half a mile from the school, giving all students a chance to walk to school, even if they live too far away to walk all the way from home.
Bordon said studies show that increasing physical activity — even just by walking or biking to school — can significantly improve students’ academic achievement and over all well-being. It also helps children develop a sense of spatial and directional awareness, she said.
“Teachers will report that they arrive happier, but also more focused and ready to learn,” Bordon said. “When kids walk and bike, everybody benefits. Cars slow down because they expect to see walkers or bikers. The community might come together around infrastructure improvement to improve the environment so more people can walk and bike, whether it’s to school, or the library, or other places that they want to go.”
This thinking is in line with the message of the official International Walk and Bike to School Day, which emphasizes the importance of pedestrian safety, addresses concerns for the environment and aims to build stronger community connections.
“A national event can be an amazing impetus for change in communities,” the Walk and Bike to School website says. “Improvements that normally take a long time to institute can happen quickly when city officials walk or bicycle to school with students and see firsthand what needs to be done.”
City Council member Andrew Johnson joined Hiawatha students walking to school.
Deb Regnier, the principal of Hiawatha, said the school has always participated in walk and bike to school days, but this is the first time they have included students who take the bus by organizing a stop half a mile from the school at the nearby Howe campus. This year’s walk to school day will serve as a type of pilot for a regularly scheduled bus-and-walk program at Hiawatha Community School.
“We definitely hope to keep doing it,” Regnier said. “The kids are a lot more alert, they’re a lot more awake, they just feel better, their brains are already working. Most of them, when we get Hiawatha, will go in to have breakfast, so they’ve got fuel for their bodies and this fresh air for their brains, so their learning is much better.”
Harper Thompson, 6, held Regnier’s hand as she walked to school. Normally, her parents drop her off. With a shy smile, all she had to say about the event was, “I like it.”
Bordon said the walk to school event is also an opportunity to honor students who walk to school everyday, despite rain and Minnesota’s harsh winters.
Regnier said she has noticed strong community ties among families that walk or bike to school on regularly. More broadly, it reflects well on the neighborhood as a safe place.
“We have so many students that ride or walk to school every single day,” she said. “Many of our students — even in the winter — they are biking and walking to school every single morning. It has quite the community feel.”
She added that students who commute on foot or two wheels often spend time with their classmates and families at the park before heading home at the end of the day.
Isabelle Cowan, 6, said she prefers biking to school, and does most days. She rides a pink bike.
“I like [my bike],” Isabelle said. “It let’s me do what I want to.”