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January 22, 2018
It’s almost 8 a.m., the height of school drop-off time. Children are streaming in through the gates at Roosevelt Elementary School in South Tampa. But this is a Wednesday morning, and today the crowd looks a little different from the average. The car line is short – instead, young students and their families are arriving on foot, on bicycles, on scooters and even on skateboards!
Why all the foot traffic this morning? It’s Walk to School Wednesday! Just inside the school gate, children register as walkers to earn prizes, parents stop for a cup of coffee and families gather, getting to know each other until the bell hurries students to class for a day already invigorated by healthy activity.
This is the Sidewalk Stompers program: a community-led volunteer effort promoting a healthy, pedestrian-friendly and safe Tampa Bay by encouraging walking and supporting the development of walking infrastructure.
“Walk to School Wednesday has made such a difference for our school community. Families are building relationships while walking together and our students are improving their health by moving more and getting their bodies ready to learn,” says Kim Klace, Roosevelt’s PTA President.
Sidewalk Stompers was founded in 2016 with a with a two-fold goal: 1) get more students to enjoy the benefits of walking to school and 2) connect with City of Tampa traffic planners to improve school walking routes.
When Walk to School Wednesday premiered, around 80 students participated. This school year, over 200 students walk each Wednesday.
“With Walk to School Wednesdays, Sidewalk Stompers introduced another option for getting to school. Those kids that have always driven now know people can walk, skip and run instead. They’re excited to participate, and they’re getting their parents to join them. It’s a student-led culture shift,” says Tim Scheu, a Roosevelt parent and co-founder of Sidewalk Stompers.
Step one – get the children excited about walking to school. Prizes are great motivators! Students can earn individual prizes or win prize baskets full of active toys for recess for their classrooms, all while looking forward to the awarding of the Stomping Cup Trophy, given to the “most walking” class. Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning ThunderBug presented the award!
Step two – get the parents excited about walking to school. Free coffee donated by Starbucks helps! Parents walkers can also feel more connected to their children’s school community.
Step three – get City traffic officials excited about working collaboratively on improving safety infrastructure along school walking routes. After seeing the rapidly growing number of young walkers at Roosevelt, the City installed new crosswalks and signage in the surrounding neighborhood.
The Sidewalk Stompers project can readily be shared with other schools, modified to fit each community’s different needs. Scheu says the group plans to work with schools throughout Tampa to give all students the benefits of healthy morning activity and safer walking routes to school.
“The schools and families embracing Walk to School Wednesday can become part of that critical mass that helps us better negotiate better infrastructure with the City,” Scheu says.
Facebook: Sidewalk Stompers
By Emily L. Hay Hinsdale
This article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.