WEST CHICAGO – Hundreds of students made their way to Norton Creek Elementary School early Wednesday morning, winding up sidewalks on foot or by bike rather than stepping out of a bus or a car.
The effort was part of National Walk to School Day and Bike to School Day, and many schools in the Tri-Cities area participated.
Norton Creek Elementary School in West Chicago, part of St. Charles School District 303, was among this year's participating schools, and physical education teacher Julie Misner estimated that out of the school's 417 students, about 350 had walked or biked to school.
"We're very fortunate to have a community that's located within a suburban neighborhood," she said. "It's recommended that kids get 60 minutes of activity a day, so today we're focused on getting kids more active, and building a sense of community."
In Kane County, 59 schools formally registered to participate this year, said Michael Isaacson, assistant director for community health for the Kane County Health Department.
He said Kane County school districts have celebrated the day for the last four years, and participation has grown each year since 2010, when 46 schools formally registered to participate.
"This is definitely our best year," he said.
Schools in St. Charles, Batavia and Geneva also participated in National Walk to School Day, many of which invited community leaders and police officers to join. Misner said almost all of Norton Creek's teachers participated by meeting students in nearby areas and walking to school in large groups.
Many parents also accompanied their children on Wednesday's walk. Jane and Bill Keene of West Chicago said at least one of them usually walks to school with their daughter, Tatum, who is in third grade.
"You get some good family time while walking, and you see friends along the way," said Jane Keene. "It's a good way to start the day."
Principal Jodie McKnight said National Walk to School Day and Bike to School Day has become a tradition at Norton Creek in the last few years. She said the school has many regular walkers and bikers.
"I'm thinking we might need to buy another bike rack," she said. "We have lots of walkers and bike riders."
Isaacson said the county's "Making Kane County Fit for Kids" initiative, which has the goal of reversing childhood obesity in Kane County by 2020, helps sponsor the event. Schools that register and meet all of the necessary requirements can receive a $250 grant from the program by participating in National Walk to School Day. Misner said Norton Creek officials planned to use the grant to purchase physical fitness equipment.
He said the organization has asked schools to provide feedback on any barriers they see when it comes to getting more students to walk or bike to school, as well.
"We want kids to be more active. It's critical that you have good PE in schools and that kids are moving and engaging in other things," he said. "Walking to school is such an easy way to build physical activity every day."