Walking to school makes a return trip


POSTED: Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When I was a kid, I didn't walk 10 miles in the sleet and snow to get to and from school.





Hoofing it

        More information on the Safe Routes to Schools program is available at:


» State Department of Transportation 692-7695



For one thing, Palolo doesn't get any sleet or snow, just sporadic morning rain and killer humidity. For another, schools weren't that far away.

But walk I did, along with thousands of other public and private school students in Hawaii, and we didn't even think to do otherwise.

Moms and dads worked, usually leaving the house earlier than their children, and we were expected to get to school on our own.

Not that we minded. It was fun. It was freedom, a stretch of time between home and the classroom liberated from the eyes of adults, when we could talk loud, jump around and act silly outside the confines of walls and convention.

It allowed us to measure the scale of the world as we knew it then, from house to block and street to street, to note when the caterpillars began diligently chewing the edges of crown-flower leaves, when the pointy, red hibiscus were fat with nectar and the helicopter trees ready to release their spiraling seeds overhead.

We took the same route almost every day, mindful of the occasional mean dog and the muddy flood ditches along the way, nodding to the grandmas and grandpas tending to gardens or sweeping out garages.

Most of the kids in the pack lived close by, but composition varied as younger brothers and sisters merged in and older ones exited. The older kids made sure the younger children didn't wander off track or lag behind too much, that everyone got across the streets safely, the sense of responsibility for ourselves and others fixed firmly by daily routine.

At the end of classes, we'd regroup somehow and walk back the way we came, kids peeling off by ones and twos as they reached their homes or headed for afterschool stuff like piano lessons.

There were no minivan caravans flowing in and out of school parking lots twice a day, no cellphones ringing in tiny backpacks to summon child to driver.

Memory may be serving up a fuzzy, idealized impression, but I can't recall that any of our companions were ever hit by a car or snatched off the sidewalk by a weirdo.

These days, pedestrians of all ages seem to be at risk as drivers have to get where they're going now-now-now. Streets are configured for ease of traffic movement while disregarding the foot- and pedal-propelled.

I bring this up not as musings at the onset of old-fut-ism, but because the idea of walking to school is being revived.

In Hawaii, and across the country, the practice is being rediscovered as the cost of fuel for school buses and personal vehicles, and obesity among children sharply increase. That the federal government is handing out money for this enterprise has perked up interest, too.

Community groups, county governments, schools, parent-teacher associations and others are eligible for “;Safe Routes to School”; grants, leading to creation of a variety of programs like “;walking school buses”; that have adults supervising children who either hoof it or ride bikes to campuses.

There are probably myriad reasons such proposals can be shot down - liability, distance, dangerous highways - but there are better reasons to resolve them: Healthier children, a healthier environment, an opportunity to instill responsibility and, best of all, fun. Imagine that.