Marin kids take steps toward fitness

Rick Polito, IJ reporter
Marin Independent Journal, Monday, October 4, 2004

IF WENDI KALLINS has her way, kid's won't just be walking to school Wednesday on International Walk to School Day.

They'll be walking across the country.

Kallins, director of the Safe Routes to Schools program and a local coordinator for International Walk to School Day, has put together a Web site and lesson plan package that allows schoolchildren to cumulatively walk and ride across the country, virtually. The Walk and Bike Across America program will let kids to add up their school-and-back mileage and chart their progress in an online walk across a map of the United States. Classes can add up miles, choose routes and destinations and stop at places like Mount Rushmore and the Motown Museum in Detroit, where connections to existing sites allow additional learning opportunities.

The idea is to get kids excited about getting to school under their own power, says Kallins. "They can show their progress by saying 'we've gone from here to here.'"

In a county where an estimated 21 percent of morning traffic is parents driving children to school, and health officials worry about sedentary and obese kids, Kallins is looking everywhere for new ways to get parents and children out of their cars.

The idea is based on a Canadian program that had schools "racing each other across Canada," Kallins says.

To bring the idea here, Kallins sought a partnership with the nutrition division of the California Department of Health and Human Services. That accounts for the abundance of food-related stops on the map as walkers learn about fruits and vegetables from different states and stops.

"You can eat your way across too," Kallins says.

Tasmin Pesso is a mother and Walk to School Day team leader at Neil Cummins School in Corte Madera. She calls Walk and Bike Across America another tool to get sedentary kids out of their parents cars and onto the bike paths and sidewalks.

Neil Cummins already has "Walk and Roll" day on Wednesdays with parents handing out pencils, bookmarks and other small prizes to kids who walk or ride into school. The map makes it a group activity.

"I think some of them will get a kick out of seeing the map and seeing the progress," Pesso says.

Children will be able to chart their collective mileage on a paper map and the Web site. If all 600-plus students walked a mile a day, they could cross the country in a week.

"With some kids that really captures their imagination to see the miles accumulate," Pesso says.

The Web site goes live on Wednesday. Kallins hopes to hear from more teachers, parents and schools. What she really wants to see is kids, online and on their feet.

She is already talking to Walk to School Day organizers in Europe. Kids won't have to stop when they get to the coast, Kallins says.

"Kids can race around the world."

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