More than a thousand students got some early morning exercise last Friday after being dropped off a short distance from school and hoofing it the rest of the way.
The detour was for the Bus Stop and Walk program being tested this month at Red Wing schools to promote physical activity and classroom focus.
The first busloads of excited students arrived outside Burnside Cemetery around 7:45 a.m. They were greeted by teachers, staff and volunteers before walking — and running — the half-mile trek to Burnside Elementary School.
“We know strongly that physical activity helps mental alertness,” Burnside Principal Sheila Beckner said Friday as she prepared for students to arrive at the drop-off site.
“Physical activity helps us be healthier, but physical activity before we engage in something difficult helps get our brain and body ready.”
Burnside, Twin Bluff Middle School and Sunnyside Elementary are participating in the three-week trial program organized by Live Healthy Red Wing.
The local non-profit has spent the last five years encouraging students to walk and bike to school, including making “Walk and Roll to School” maps showing the best routes and working with the city to paint fog lines along Twin Bluff Road to slow traffic and improve safety.
A 15-minute walk to school helps students meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, according the Minnesota Department of Health.
Beyond the immediate benefits of morning exercise, Live Healthy Red Wing says walking and biking programs encourage active lifestyles, strengthen communities, give children confidence and cut down on air pollution and traffic near schools.
“Years ago, when a lot of us grew up, there were kids walking to school all the time,” Beckner said. “And as time has gone on, cities have spread out and there is less of that.”
The number of children walking or biking to school dropped from around 50 percent in 1969 to 13 percent in 2009, according to Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Families nationwide drove 30 billion miles and made 6.5 billion trips driving students to school in 2009.
Bus Stop and Walk continues this Friday and May 22, and Beckner said the goal is for the program to become a routine in the spring and fall months.
“It’d be great for the kids health-wise, but also mentally,” she said.
For more information or to access school walking maps, visit www.livehealthyredwing.org.