When Kids Walk to School, #WellnessWins

By Alex Severs, District Wellness Coordinator, Monett R-1 School District, Monett, MO

In schools across the country traditions exist in many forms, such as a back-to-school assembly or an annual field day. Several years ago in the Monett R-1 School District, we set out (on foot!) to create a new tradition of our own: walking to school.

walk to school

Stepping into a New Tradition in Monett

Like many traditions, our walk to school program took time to develop and gain support. Many parents were apprehensive at first because our school had never offered "walking school buses" before and they lacked knowledge of walking safety within our community.

We hosted our first event in October 2014 where more than 180 students walked to school over the course of three days. Parents and community members quickly saw our success and were enthusiastic about participating in future events – and that they did!

walk to school

We hosted four more walk to school day celebrations over the next two years, with a record turnout of 1,363 students in our fall 2016 event! From parents to police officers to city employees, the whole community now looks forward to our walk to school events each season.

“The walk to school events are really embraced by the whole community,” says Shawn Hayden, project coordinator for population health at CoxHealth Monett. “By utilizing our health care presence in the community, we are able to recruit volunteers from different avenues – including hospital administrators, nurses, retired teachers, police officers, parents and even elected representatives.”

Making our Success Last through Wellness Policies

These walk to school events became a source of pride for our district, so we wanted to make sure that students and the community would benefit from them for years to come. That’s why we turned to our wellness policy: the sustainable piece to our wellness puzzle.

District wellness policies play an important role in guiding and informing district wellness efforts by establishing the policies and practices that empower students and staff to make healthy choices at school. To ensure that walkability was at the forefront of our wellness efforts, our district wellness committee – comprised of myself, the assistant superintendent, nurses, administrators, food service staff, board members, parents and community members – officially incorporated walking to school into our wellness policy in 2014.

Our current policy – on schedule to be approved and implemented by the USDA’s June 30 deadline – states that the district will support active transport to and from school by engaging in activities such as: designating safe or preferred routes to school, using walking school buses, providing instruction on walking safety to students and much more.

Walking Your Way to #WellnessWins

One of our district’s greatest wellness policy challenges has been communicating its value to parents, teachers and community members. Fortunately, through a diverse wellness committee and the visibility of our walk to school events, we’ve generated great momentum behind a strong wellness focus throughout the district.

That’s why I’m thrilled to see stories like ours celebrated this month through #WellnessWins, a campaign launched by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and American Heart Association’s Voices for Healthy Kids initiative to showcase wellness policy successes and inspire other leaders to take action.

#WellnessWins breaks down obstacles and provides the practical resources you need to develop or improve your district’s local wellness policy. Toolkits, virtual trainings and a ready-to-use model wellness policy are available to help you reach your district’s health and wellness goals! Whether you’ve been walking the talk for years or are just getting started, you can see how other districts have made wellness wins, one step at a time.

So, what are you waiting for? Take the first step by visiting WellnessWins.org today!