Small feat, big picture
Walk to school make a big difference
By Ramsey Nix
“Global warming, childhood obesity, oil speculation, environmental degradation” are terms that have floated to the surface of our national media milieu. They fly through the airwaves like confetti at a party convention, devoid of meaning by the end of the day.
Sometimes it takes childlike curiosity to cut through the noise and think about what each of us can do as individuals to live healthier, “greener” lives. With that in mind, I recently joined a group of children on their morning walk to school to gain a fresh perspective on the impact of simple lifestyle decisions.
Last year, Jennifer Newell, mother of David (6) and Mary Bella (4), both students at the Morgan County Primary School, decided to begin walking her children to school every day. Their neighbors, Madison (8) and Michala (5) Bryant, jumped on board, and the four children have been walking to school ever since.
“I actually think it’s a good way for me to start the day,” says Newell. “We’re not driving in traffic, which I like, and they’re getting some exercise.”
The crew sets out at 7:30 a.m. from their cul-de-sac, located just barely over a mile from their final destination, the elementary school where Madison attends first grade. The Newell’s dog, Foxy, leads the way down their neighborhood street, and the children follow in a single-file line with colorful backpacks strapped on tight.
“In the gutter!” Newell yells, whenever a car approaches, and the children hustle to the narrow crevices that separate the street from the yards on both sides. “The worst part about this walk is the sidewalk situation,” explains Newell.
“And this is where it gets hairy,” she says, standing on the side of College Street, which is full of traffic– mostly carloads of children on their way to school.
After the group crosses College, they walk up a driveway past “Pop Pop’s” house, which leads to their shortcut through the meadow and onto the primary school. Pop Pop is the Bryants’ grandfather, and he usually greets the children when he sees them passing by. “Good morning!” he hollers, and the children give him a big hug.
“He really enjoys us walking by. We make his day,” says Madison.
A lone skateboard sits at the edge of the meadow. “That’s the Kuperberg skateboard,” says David. “We always know if the Kuperbergs are beating us to school when we see it.”
Apparently, the Kuperbergs and the Hodges are among the other families who choose to walk to school.
The children sing, “We’re off to see the wizard,” on their way through the meadow. Newell has to reign them in once they reach the monkey bars on the primary school playground. They round the corner and reach the drive-through drop off, where their classmates are filing out of cars and into the front doors. Newell gives David, Michala, and Mary Bella a big hug goodbye before walking on with Madison to the elementary school.
Traveling a well-worn path to school every day seems like a small feat until you consider the big picture.
In the United States, too many children are unhealthy because of their sedentary lifestyles. According to the Center for Disease Control, the prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 more than doubled in the past 20 years, going from 6.5 percent in 1980 to 17 percent in 2006. Walking to school is one simple lifestyle change that could help prevent childhood obesity.
Walking to school can also positively impact the environment. Inevitably, each of us contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Yet, there are many things that individuals can do to reduce their carbon emissions, like simply walking to work or school, rather than riding in a car.
To illustrate this point, Madison calculated her annual carbon emissions using the carbon footprint calculator on the Nature Conservancy’s Website. She wanted to find out if walking to school really cut down on her carbon emissions.
The carbon footprint calculator accounts for emissions created by home energy, transportation, diet, and waste generation. Madison thoughtfully answered all the questions on the Website, including the number of family members in her house (4), the number and type of vehicles they drive (one truck and one mid-size car), number of flights last year (0), amount of meat in her diet (some meat every day), and whether the family recycles (always) and composts (rarely).
Madison first calculated her carbon footprint as if she rode in a car to school every day (180 school days X two miles = 360 miles per year). Based on that equation, Madison’s estimated greenhouse gas emissions would be 13 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
After she subtracted the 360 miles per year out of the equation, her carbon emissions fell to 12 tons per year. So Madison actually saves one ton of CO2 per year by walking to school.
“Yeah!” Madison exclaimed, giving the writer a high-five. “I’ll have to figure out a way to walk even when I get to high school.”
While Madison’s carbon footprint is well below the U.S. national average of 27 tons of CO2 per year, she still uses a lot more energy than a child living in another country. According to the Nature Conservancy, the world average CO2 emissions per person is 5.5 tons per year.
Still, the fact that American children are even considering their carbon footprints is a step in the right direction. Imagine if every child with a one-mile commute to school would walk or ride a bike rather than hitch a ride. Moreover, imagine if those children convinced their parents to do the same.
“I’m trying to get more of my friends to walk to school with me,” says Madison.
“I would love it if more people would join us,” Newell agrees.