Walking to school is a positive force for kids, community

Jenny and Scott Bordon
Jenny and Scott Bordon, in front of the new flashing crossing beacons on 36th & Pleasant Ave. S. Photo by Sarah Tschida.

It’s a Friday in September. There is a slight chill and a mist in the air, and dozens of kids are streaming off school buses to meet up with the Lyndale Walking Bus and walk four blocks north to Lyndale Community School.

These kids are taking part in the Pleasant Pathway, an effort to provide more kids with the benefits of walking to school.

The concept of these programs is simple. The walking school bus is similar to a bus route: Families walk a designated route to school, picking up more kids along the way, until they reach their destination.

The Pleasant Pathway is what’s known as a Bus Stop & Walk program. Kids who live further away from Lyndale and normally bus are dropped off about a half-mile away and get to walk the rest of the way to school with their classmates.

Lyndale has a history of promoting walk to school efforts, and Jenny and Scott Bordon are two of our community’s biggest walk champions.

Nearly a decade ago, the Bordons organized with other neighborhood families to build community by walking together to school. That grew into a more formalized Walking School Bus, which was the first of its kind in Minneapolis.

Eventually, Scott applied for a grant to support the walk-to-school efforts, and in 2011 Jenny began work as Minneapolis Public Schools’ coordinator for the Safe Routes to School Program, a national initiative to get more students biking and walking to school while encouraging cities to make it safer to do so. What began as a grassroots initiative has now grown into a broad coalition of support that includes the school district, city, Safe Routes to School at the state and national level, teachers, staff, parents, community members and others.

Students benefit from walking to school. They get fresh air first thing in the morning and most of their recommended daily activity during their trip to and from school. MPS teachers at schools participating in Bus Stop and Walks overwhelmingly report that students arrive at school more alert and ready to learn and that the program is good for their school.

Lisa Skrzeczkoski-Bzdusek walks to school every morning with her fourth grader, first grader and two of her neighbor’s kids. The four parents each take a day walking the kids home from school in the afternoon and rotate pick-up on the fifth day.

“It’s a good way for them to get their sillies out in the morning,” Lisa said, pointing to her kids running up the sidewalk with their friends.

MPS Safe Routes to School recognizes that many families experience barriers that prevent them from walking to school. Equity is at the heart of their strategic action plan for the program.

One priority is to create partnerships to reduce and address street harassment — which disproportionately affects girls, women, people of color, people with low incomes and people who identify as LGBTQ — so that all families can feel safe walking to school. Other priorities include increasing access by expanding the district’s Bus Stop & Walk efforts and encouraging teachers to incorporate walking and biking activities into the school day so that students who don’t live as close to school can also get exercise and be outside.

Whether we have school-aged kids or not, we can all play a part in supporting Safe Routes to School and encouraging more kids to walk and bike year round.

If you drive, be a safe driver and help contribute to a street environment where kids, who are some of our streets’ most vulnerable users, can feel confident. Support efforts at the city, county and state level to incorporate traffic-calming measures on our streets.

Slow down and yield to people biking and walking. Hang out in your front yard. Go on your own walks and bike rides.

There is strength in numbers. Your presence out in the community is felt by others and can contribute to a positive and safe environment for all.

Scott Bordon embodies the community-building aspect of walking to school. Even though his kids are grown and have moved on from elementary school, he can still be found every weekday morning wearing his bright orange safety vest, carrying his stop sign and helping numerous neighborhood kids walk safely to school. He has a smile and a friendly handshake for all, he greets neighbors in Spanish and kids who have moved on to junior high remember him and wave hello.

Coming up on Oct. 10, schools across the country will be celebrating National Walk & Bike to School Day. Last year, numerous Minneapolis schools and an estimated 9,000 students took part. This year, several community schools have special celebrations planned.

Learn more at nutritionservices.mpls.k12.mn.us/sr2s. Join in the celebrations Oct.10, and let’s work together to make it possible for more kids to walk to school everyday!

Sarah Tschida lives in Kingfield and is a volunteer board member with Our Streets Minneapolis.