Kathy McCullough usually doesn’t walk to school.
But Wednesday, McCullough, a seventh-grade teacher at Thompson Middle School in St. Charles, broke her normal routine and walked with a group of 10 students to celebrate International Walk to School Day.
“I think it’s just great to encourage kids to not get in the car with mom and dad before school and walk,” she said.
Thompson Middle School was one of 53 Kane County schools that participated in the International Walk to School Day – an initiative that promotes health and physical activity.
Stephen Morrill, principal at Thompson, said about 300 students live within walking distance of the school, but only about 100 regularly walk to classes. Close to 300 students participated in walking Wednesday.
“Any time we have the opportunity to promote personal wellness and health, we want to do that,” Morrill said.
The Kane County Health Department provides incentives for schools that participate, offering mini-grants of $300 if schools meet the right criteria. Jane Maxwell, the health department’s Fit for Kids coordinator, said school participation has grown in the three years the health department has promoted International Walk to School Day, from 43 schools in 2010 to 53 this year.
Thompson Middle School has participated for the past three years. Stephanie Porteous, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Thompson, said the PTO heavily promoted the event by contacting parents and filling students in on healthy fun facts.
“[Walking to school] helps build spirits and increase energy levels,” she said. “Last year wasn’t as big.”
Not everyone is able to walk to school, which is why some schools offered other opportunities to participate.
Bella Keys, a Thompson Middle School eighth-grader, said she wished she could walk to school every day, but she lives too far.
Instead, she walked the track with about 130 other students who wanted to participate but couldn’t actually walk to school.
Bella said she participated “because it shows you care about the school and you care about being healthy.”
Students at Harrison Street Elementary School in Geneva also had the option to earn “foot tokens” Wednesday, even if they weren’t able to walk to school.
Shonette Sims, principal at Harrison, said more than 200 students walked to classes Wednesday, and the school offered opportunities during lunch for students who couldn’t walk in the morning.
The school has participated in the International Walk to School Day for the past three years, and the event kicks off three other walking events called “Laps for Learning.” Students earn tokens for participating in the four events.
Maxwell called it a “catalyst event” that gets students thinking about walking to school. She said walking before school allows students to burn off energy, which helps them focus better in the classroom.
Children are supposed to get one hour of physical activity a day, and walking to school can be a part of that, Maxwell said.
“It can be a social experience that’s positive for the kids. There are lots of benefits,” she said. “It also cuts down on traffic around schools, which provides a safer venue for kids to walk to school.”
Lauren Curcio, an eighth-grader at Thompson, lives too far away to walk to school, so she walked the track instead. She said she enjoyed socializing and having fun while getting exercise.
“I’m ready to start the day,” she said.