Thousands of students will hit the sidewalk instead of the school bus Wednesday as Vienna-area elementary schools celebrate International Walk to School Day.
The event, sponsored by the Partnership for a Walkable America, started in Chicago in 1997. What began as a one-time event to promote walkable communities became international in 2000, when the partnership in the U.S. teamed up with schools in Canada and the U.K.
Now in its 12th year, the event is expected to draw celebrations at 3,626 schools across the country Oct. 3; even more are expected in 40 other countries worldwide. The goal: raising awareness about safer routes for walking and bicycling to school, traffic congestion, pedestrian safety and increased activity for kids, the organization says.
Ten Vienna-area schools plan to participate this year, making it the third-highest among areas with registered events in the state, just behind behind Alexandria (12) and Richmond (11).
Last year was the first year Fairfax County Public Schools formally endorsed the event; this year, about 35 schools within Fairfax County Public Schools are participating, said Wolftrap Elementary's Safe Routes to School coordinator Jeff Anderson.
The Vienna schools participating include Cunningham Park, Flint Hill, Marshall Road, Vienna, Westbriar and Wolftrap Elementary Schools; Kilmer and Thoreau Middle Schools; and Our Lady of Good Counsel School.
Kiss and Ride crowding has been a growing problem across the county, and advocates say using International Walk to School Day as a springboard for more regular walking or biking programs could offer a permanent solution.
FCPS School Board Chair Ilryong Moon and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova issued a joint statement last week encouraging parents and their children to lace up their sneakers for the event.
“Walking and biking to school can be the start of a healthy routine with lifelong benefits," Bulova said in a statement.
The event also marks the one-year anniversary of Vienna Elementary's " a weekly event that encourages students and their parents to walk to school.
Students collect a toe token or special charm for participating each week, hanging them in large clumps from their backpacks; parents have their own incentive in free coffee donated by Caffe Amouri, said Sean McCall, the school's Safe Routes to School coordinator.
About 150 students now regularly walk to school each Wednesday. As of last spring, that was nearly half of the 388-member student body.
The event is one Wolftrap Elementary also plans to duplicate, kicking off its own "Walking Wednesday" in conjunction with the Oct. 3 event, Anderson said.
Video and Photos: Walk To School Day 2011 In Vienna
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Taking photos at your school for Walk to School Day? Send them to erica.hendry at patch.com, and we'll share them!