The idea is simple and fun: Walk with your friends to school.

Walking and bicycling to school has become less common among school-aged children and adolescents. Within just one generation, the percentage of children walking or biking to school has dropped from 50 percent to 13 percent. It’s not a coincidence that childhood obesity has exploded in that time frame, and for the first time in history a child’s life expectancy is projected to be shorter than that of their parents.

Blue Zones Project, a well-being initiative brought to Dodge County by Beaver Dam Community Hospital, is looking to reverse these trends by encouraging more students to actively commute to school with a “Walking School Bus.”

A Walking School Bus is not yellow. It does not have seats. Instead, it is fueled by youthful energy and little feet. The “wheels” on the bus move when groups of children pedal their bikes or walk to school while adult volunteers supervise them along a safe route. The Walking School Bus program allows students to meet at a set time, at a safe location, and walk together to school.

Studies have shown that children who walk to school are more alert and ready to learn when they arrive. Participating in a Walking School Bus also teaches children to be responsible pedestrians and develops lifelong fitness habits. And, students make new friends. Children who walk together stick together.

Dodgeland School District was among the first to participate in the Blue Zones Project initiative, which aims to help communities make healthier choices more accessible and achievable by removing barriers to success. School district leaders who work with the Blue Zones Project choose from a list of programs and policy options aimed at increasing health and well-being, including the option of implementing a Walking School Bus program. This “people-powered” form of transportation helps to increase daily physical activity for students.

The Walking School Bus program is just one of several steps Dodgeland School has taken to make it easier for students to build healthy habits.

Dodgeland Elementary School Principal Jessica Johnson said, “This year we also added the ‘Trojan Trail’ to our playground. Students start out recess by running or walking one lap on the trail before heading off to play. Just this simple addition has been a fun way for students to get extra exercise in their day.”

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Get involved and show support by participating in International Walk and Bike to School Day on Wednesday. Students, families, school leaders and community partners around the country are celebrating by choosing active transportation to school.

In 2016, on the 20th annual Walk to School Day, more than 5,000 events were registered. Register a school’s event at walkbiketoschool.org and encourage local school districts to take part.

To learn more about Blue Zones Project, go to dodgecounty.bluezonesproject.com, call 920-212-8511 or email bluezonesprojectdodgecounty@sharecare.com.

Blue Zones Project is a community-led well-being initiative designed to make healthy choices easier through improvements to a city’s environment, policies, and social networks. Blue Zones Project is a division of Sharecare. For more information, visit bluezonesproject.com.

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