Walking to School Pays Off in the Classroom

A recent study has shown what parents, babysitters, and teachers already know: exercise helps young children concentrate. While the researchers originally hoped to investigate the impact of breakfast and lunch on school performance, they were surprised to find that third grade students who biked or walked to school showed concentration abilities equivalent to students “half a year further in their studies.”

These findings underscore the importance of ensuring high quality schools and safe streets in all DC neighborhoods. In December, DC Action policy analyst Kate Kairys mapped a mile radius around schools then slated for closure. However, distance is only one measure of what makes schools walkable or bikeable for students and families. Think about your own neighborhood: are there sidewalks, crosswalks, and speed limits in place to allow children to walk to school safely? Are there any geographic barriers between students and schools? If we use the DC KIDS COUNT data tools to examine violent crime rates and test score performance in various neighborhoods, we can understand why some parents feel more comfortable sending their children to school on the bus or the metro, or sending them to schools outside their neighborhood, even if other schools are technically within walking distance.

There are several resources in DC to help students walk or bike to school safely. The DC Safe Routes to School program through the Department of Transportation works with schools to map safe routes, train families on safe bike and pedestrian practices, and encourage biking and walking to school. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) teaches bike safety classes in elementary schools and recreations centers. These programs provide important services, but many neighborhoods will need extensive investments to ensure every child in DC can reap the academic and health rewards of walking or biking to school. What changes would you like to see in your neighborhood to make the streets safe for children?

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