Today is International Walk to School Day!

walktoschooldayThe rush to get out the door on time and then…

The giggles…

The songs that you sing to pace your fast feet…

The camaraderie with neighborhood buddies…

The bond among tired, decaffeinated parents…

The “Mom, did you know?” moments that you want to bottle up forever…and ever…

Those few seconds you’re still permitted to hold his hand as you cross the street.

And all of this before the school bell rings –

All of this during your walk to school or the bus stop.

Today is International Walk to School Day 2015!

Today we celebrate this simple, every day activity that connects generations of families. Today, we celebrate the PTA leaders nationwide who are partnering with their schools and transportation officials to host Walk to School Day events. On this day, we are reminded that “active kids do better” and physical activity in the morning helps students to focus more on their studies the rest of the day.

Walk to School Day looks different in every school community. Some kids always walk to school so on this day – they enjoy a more festive route and a celebration when they arrive. Other kids live too far for a walk, so they meet at a “drop-off” location to join friends and their families on a shared route. Still others are joining a Walking School Bus, or a group of kids walking with parents who rotate the responsibility of shepherding kids safely to school.

Today is the day that parents are reminded to teach and practice important pedestrian safety tips, like left-right-left before crossing, or don’t text and walk. Look around and you’ll see increased foot traffic equals increased enforcement and traffic patrols, increased recognition for those awesome school crossing guards, and increased caution among drivers. And this is awesome – and celebratory – and safer for our children and families walking to school or the bus stop TODAY.

But what happens tomorrow?

International Walk to School Day serves as a launch pad for year-round Safe Routes to School efforts to educate students about pedestrian and bike safety, encourage families to choose walking and biking as their mode of transportation, and mobilize communities around advocating for safer walking and biking environments especially near schools.

Since it began in 2000, thousands of school communities have benefited as a result of what happens after each International Walk to School Day and millions of families have benefited from the Safe Routes to School movement.

walktoschoolday1Honoring Deb Hubsmith who fired up our feet for Safe Routes to School

Today, I’m walking with my kids and local PTA in honor of a woman who led the launch of this movement – Deb Hubsmith, founder of Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Sadly, Deb passed away in August from Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

In the early 2000s, I knew I was witnessing history when I stood near the US Capitol Building – listening to Deb Hubsmith and Congressman Oberstar fuel our passions and fire up our feet as we began our day of lobbying for an unprecedented commitment to Safe Routes to School funding.

At the time, I managed the pedestrian and bike safety programs for Safe Kids Worldwide, which provided grants to support local Walk to School Day events and create task forces focused on safer school environments.

I remember standing among a hundred or so pedestrian and bike advocates and listening to this passionate woman – not much older than my 20-something self – share her vision for more active school communities. She revved us up that day. We were ready to roll as one team from many different organizations toward one objective: Safe Routes to School funding.

Proudly in 2005 – thanks to Deb’s leadership rallying all of us together for this cause – the first Safe Routes to School legislation by the U.S. Congress passed. It dedicated $1.1 billion for Safe Routes to School in all 50 states. Fast forward a decade, Deb’s vision and leadership continued to play such a significant role in the September 2015 launch of Step it Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities.

Today, the National PTA is proud of its strategic collaboration with the organization Deb founded, Safe Routes to School National Partnership. During the last few years, I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with Deb and her staff frequently about our joint program Fire Up Your Feet. And I was even honored to share the stage with her at a few events where we encouraged audiences to support policy and programs that make it possible for kids to safely walk or bike to school.

The last time I saw Deb in-person was at the National Walking Summit in 2013. She was full of passion and spirit and I never would’ve known she didn’t feel well. She reminded me recently that she was diagnosed with leukemia two weeks later. Please take a few minutes to honor Deb’s life and legacy by watching a video from that October 2013 event where she shared why her organization and the National PTA partnered with Kaiser Permanente to leverage Walk to School Day as a launch pad for Fire Up Your Feet.

Listen to her passionate radiance. It’s as if you can feel her everlasting energy – her vision that will continue to fuel and inspire the Safe Routes to School movement today and every day.

Mary Pat King is the director of programs and partnerships at National PTA.

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