Celebrating Active School Travel Champions

A School’s Story: Senator Gibson’s Health Squad
Author: Lori Powell, Executive Director, Niagara Student Transportation Services (NSTS)

My goal for the month of April is to learn more about the benefits of Active School Travel (AST) from real people who are champions supporting children to have an active journey to school. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Christy White, the school nurse at Senator Gibson, and to meet the Health Squad.

SEN Health Squad April 2019

Here is their story:

In the Fall of 2018, Senator Gibson participated in a walkabout where representatives from the school, NSTS, Region and municipality reviewed the school’s walk zone, observing active travel conditions for students on the journey to school and speaking to crossing guards who provided great insight. The action plan led the school making a commitment to AST programs!

Christy and teacher Sue DiSilva-Piques visited each classroom to solicit student volunteers for what is now known as the “Health Squad”. The Health Squad’s goal is to increase student’s daily physical activity at school. They meet monthly to plan healthy school activities, including a walk to school event, and follow-up their planning and dialogue in a Google Classroom in between meetings.

Sue shared, “I’m very impressed with the work our Health squad members are doing. Whether collaborating in meetings or putting their ideas into practice, the students are extremely motivated to build a healthy setting for the whole school community. The students have put together several initiatives and their ownership and dedication is amazing. They are setting excellent examples in helping others maintain healthy lifestyles now and in the future by building strong healthy habits. It’s been a pleasure to watch them grow and I can’t wait to see them further develop their leadership skills.”

Christy shared, “I am so proud of the work the students on the Health Squad are completing at Senator Gibson. It has been such a great experience to see students taking on a leadership role within their own peer group and championing health initiatives. By encouraging other students to walk or bike to school, the Health Squad are helping them build physical activity into their daily routine. This can have a positive effect on both their physical and mental health. Active school travel can actually make up as much as 30% of the required daily physical activity a student needs, and with that, help improve metabolism, cardiorespiratory fitness, and lower weight and BMI. Even better, not only are there physical health benefits to AST but research also shows that children who are active for as little as 20 minutes daily have more active brains and improved attention in the classroom.”

With their green shirts, the Health Squad promoted their April Walk to School Day and Wear Green day at a school assembly! The Health Squad’s student engagement was exciting and they are really making a difference within their school community. In addition, they inspired me to share their story to encourage other students and schools to make a difference in promoting AST within their healthy school framework. On April 18, the Health Squad held their first walk to school event and it was a great success!  

Why am I telling this story? In addition to providing student transportation services, NSTS supports the 22,500 students who live within the school walk zones by offering AST programs in a partnership with Niagara Region Public Health (NRPH). NSTS has expanded information available on the website for parents to support their child’s active travel to school or to the bus stop. To learn more about how to bring AST programs to your school, email AST@nsts.ca.

A Family’s Story: First Year Walking Home from School
Author: Lori Powell, Executive Director, Niagara Student Transportation Services (NSTS)

My goal for the month of April is to learn more about the benefits of Active School Travel (AST) from real people who are champions supporting children to have an active journey to school. This week, I interviewed a mom who just this school year decided to let her children walk home from school. Prior to this school year, the children attended in-school daycare and extended family support at the end of the school day until her and her husband were home from work.

Here is their story:

The family lives 1.2km from school and starting the first day of school, Maria and Julian, Grades 6 and 3 respectively, walked home from school for the first time! 

The family prepared and practiced the walk to school on summer evenings, parents teaching their children how to navigate the route, intersections and commercial business driveways. Soon, the parents walked behind their children, building confidence with their new skills. Mom communicated with the parents of neighbourhood school mates and notified them of their intention to walk home from school. To prepare for the time home alone until their parents get home from work, Maria took the Home Alone course. Mom provided Maria with a cell phone with a group text to mom, dad and grandparents when they are leaving the school and again upon their arrival home.

The first day of school arrived and it did not take long for other school mates to join Maria and Julian on the walk home from school. The group of school mates have organized their walking route including meeting points, points where they part ways and communications. Not all students in this walking group are in the same class, but they are forging friendships and spending time together outside of the walk home playing within their neighbourhood and walking to the park.

Mom proudly shared that the children have learned to organize, they have gained independence, they have learned to get from A to B, they have built confidence and they are unwinding and getting exercise after school with a 15-minute walk in the fresh air. They dress for the weather, their mental health has improved, their screen time has decreased and, in the evening the kids want to go outside to be active with friends and their family. The children are having daily adventures and share stories of the praying mantis they encountered on the way home or the team effort to find a lost walking mate’s cell phone retracing their steps. 

Mom said on day one she was nervous and was glued to her phone waiting for the text of her children’s safe arrival home. Now, she is so happy they made the transition and her family has benefitted so greatly. She recalled walking to school when she was growing up, and she smiled while sharing that her children are thriving and learning to be part of their community. I could sense her pleasure of the growth her family experienced this year.

Why am I telling this story? In addition to providing student transportation services, NSTS supports the 22,500 students who live within the school walk zones by offering AST programs in a partnership with Niagara Region Public Health (NRPH). NSTS has expanded information available on the website for parents to support their child’s active travel to school or to the bus stop. To learn more about how to bring AST programs to your school, email AST@nsts.ca.