October 2nd is International Walk to School Day, and the Frank Rushton Walking Wednesday kids will be walking just like they do every Wednesday. But teacher and Safe Routes to School champion Rachel Hohendorf encourages all schools to join the fun: “The International Walk to School Day is a great way for schools to reach out to families and neighborhoods. It provides a sense of community and pride and gives students an opportunity to participate in a global event.”
That community pride and family outreach is key to the Walking Wednesdays program’s success. The students know their neighborhood well because they walk through it every day on their way to school. “Kids complain about walking in the grass because their shoes get dirty, so we turn it around and ask, ‘What do you think we should do?'” says Je T’aime Taylor, another Walking Wednesdays champion. “‘This is your community and you have the power to change it.’” Former Walking Wednesdays students (their class is now in junior high) advocated for and won a new sidewalk installed along Mission Road, and Taylor hopes to build on that success by teaching the kids how to look for opportunities to make a difference. As Program Director with the Rosedale Development Association, Taylor asked the students for recommendations for their annual community clean up. They pointed out chronic dumping sites full of rotting couches and old tires, but warned of the “wild cat gangs” that lived in the woods: “If you get too close to the trees, they’ll hiss and attack you!”
Hohendorf and Taylor, along with PE teacher Beverlee Brokeshoulder are developing small but mighty neighborhood advocates on their weekly walks. “Our visibility in neighborhoods has helped to develop positive community relationships as we’ve continued the program,” says Hohendorf. And Taylor sees opportunities for adults to learn from these kids as well: “There are other ways to organize besides sitting in a room. If you want community input, you could take a walk.”
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