The Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative has a goal of making the healthy choice the easy choice for the children of their communities. Safe Routes to School (SRTS), a program connected to the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, has charged the way in creating more organized activities that give children opportunities to get outdoors and get active. SRTS has targeted the youth of northeastern Iowa with a number of programs including Walking School Buses and Bike Rodeo Safety Education events.
A Walking School Bus is a group of students walking to or from school with adult supervisors leading the way. Bike Rodeo Safety Education events demonstrate bike and pedestrian safety education. Students learn how to become smart and safe bike riders, and are able to practice their biking skills on obstacle courses under adult supervision. By increasing the opportunity for physical activity and play in early childhood, SRTS programs are able to change their future community environment to one that is healthier.
We asked Ashley Christensen, the Regional Safe Routes to School Coordinator, if the program is shaping its participants to be healthy adults. Ashley states, “In a society where students are not meeting recommended daily amounts of physical activity, and where obesity and other disease rates are rising as a result, Safe Routes to School efforts are so imperative. Not only is the Northeast Iowa SRTS Program having an immediate, positive impact on students for a healthier today, the program is also helping students develop lifelong healthy habits for a more productive future for themselves and for the communities in which they live.” So although most participating kids are thinking more about the gross bugs coming out of the sidewalk cracks or how awesome it is to be riding their bike during the school day rather than their own health, they are indirectly building excitement for healthy habits and lifestyles down the road.
SRTS progress is measured by the number of activities, participants, and volunteers each school year. Over the last 5 years the program has shown quite the improvement. Last year, 19 Walking School Buses were operated in 9 different communities. Over 275 students and 50 adults were able to participate. Six Bike Rodeos were held last year that reached over 650 students with road safety education. This school year the SRTS anticipates 13 communities to participate in Walking School Buses and 12 Bike Rodeo events to take place.
It might seem intimidating to start a SRTS program for your community, but there are resources that can help! The SRTS Program is a leader from which other regions can learn. They have created a 10-step guide to help other regions get started. Alana Croco with the Iowa Bicycle Coaliton serves as the SRTS Program Director for the state of Iowa. She is a wonderful free resource to any school, community, or region interested in building SRTS efforts. Contact her at Alana@iowabicyclecoalition.org.
We applaud the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative and the Safe Routes to School program. They are making a huge impact to their community by increasing physical activity for youth and developing them into healthy, happy adults that will lead a more productive future. Keep it up!