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Walking together

Western Heights, other Washington County schools participate in Walk and Bike to School Day

Western Heights, other Washington County schools participate in Walk and Bike to School Day

October 13, 2008|By JANET HEIM

As the sun was rising Wednesday, Western Heights Middle School students, and parent and teacher chaperones gathered in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven store on Salem Avenue for International Walk and Bike to School Day.

The occasional blanket and scarf warmed chilly walkers, who looked forward to doughnuts and lemonade provided by the PTSA once they completed the almost three-quarter-mile trek to the school.

Hagerstown Police Department Officer Helman, accompanied by McGruff the Crime Dog, provided a police escort for the group.

"I think it's great for the kids. They get excited," said Life Skills teacher Judy Compton, who walked with the group.

Eighth-grader Kiaira Branch said she is a walker, but often gets a ride to school from her mom. She was happy to walk with the group and enjoyed being with her friends.

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This is the second year Western Heights students have participated. PTSA President Becky Sottile said about 50 to 75 students walked together last year. This year, 12 dozen doughnuts weren't quite enough for each walker to get one, pushing the estimate of this year's walkers to close to 150, almost double that of 2007.

"We thought it was a good activity for the kids. The idea is to promote health and road safety. It brings unity to the kids," Sottile said.

She said they learned of the annual walk from a Salem Avenue Elementary mother. Salem Avenue and Winter Street Elementary were also participating in the walk/bike to school day.

Stephen Tarason, principal at Western Heights, said about 40 percent of the school's 687 students are walkers. With Western Heights being a green school, he said it presented an opportunity to talk to students about health, safety and how walking saves gas.

Participating students at Western Heights also received Paw Points - a reward system through PBIS, Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies - that allows students to cash in points for activities and prizes.

Walk to School Day was started in Chicago in 1997 by Partnership for a Walkable America, borrowing a model from the U.K. It became an international event when Canada and the U.K. joined in 2000.

The event grows each year and by 2007, all 50 states were holding Walk to School events, with 5,000 schools participating. This year, 63 schools in Maryland were signed up to walk.

Schools are encouraged to celebrate a day, week or entire month as part of International Walk to School Month in October.

For more information, go to www.walktoschool.org.

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