Written by Renee Kuhlman
In honor of Walk to School month, let’s take a poll.
When I give presentations about community-centered schools, I usually start out by asking folks how many of them walked to school as a kid. Almost half the room or sometimes even three-quarters raise their hands. But, for many reasons, the majority of folks in the audience are unable to keep their hand raised. So it’ll be interesting to see if that holds true here.
Unfortunately, those community-centered schools that we grew up with are no longer the norm.
A study of South Carolina’s coastal counties found that “school site size has increased every decade since the 1950s and school sites built in the last 20 years are 41 percent larger than those built previously.”
But why is size important? Because as schools have increased in size they have also moved further away from the residents they serve. In 1969, 87% of students lived within one mile of their school; by 2001, only 21% lived within one mile of their school.
And then, just as our fries and sodas have been supersized, the same South Carolina study found that “… schools constructed since 1971… are 47 percent larger than the … requirement.” (NOTE: In 2003, South Carolina eliminated minimum acreage requirements for school site selection.)
Where we locate our schools matters. In Georgia, where much of the growth has taken place in automobile-oriented suburbs, researchers estimated that 6% of elementary students, 11% of middle school students, and 6% of high school students in the state could reasonably be expected to walk to school.
But preserving our older and historic schools and changing state policy can help reverse this trend.
How? Well, researchers in Florida found a higher rate of walkability for schools built prior to 1950 and those built after 1996 when the state started requiring school district and local planning agencies to coordinate land-use decisions.
Keeping walkable schools in use and constructing new schools in walkable neighborhoods helps kids to get in their 60 minutes of daily physical activity through their “commute.”
I grew up walking to our community’s high school (c. 1950) which was one loooong block and two ballfields away. It was easy to get to band practice and a great place to ride my bike around after school.
Today, our family lives three blocks from the elementary school where I plan to walk my daughter someday and where we go to play on the week-ends. Unfortunately, the district closed the middle school in downtown about five years ago so we’ll have to get creative when we reach that milestone!
But enough about me … how did you get to school? Share your story in the comments!
In addition to wanting to hear about how you got to school, Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities project.