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Walk-to-School Day promotes healthy habits

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 14, 2015

 First-graders Gwyn Thompson, left, and Lily Wagner walk during the school’s Walk-to-School Day.

First-graders Gwyn Thompson, left, and Lily Wagner walk during the school’s Walk-to-School Day.

Photos by Erin Sanchez


ST. CLAIR SHORES — While grandpa may have walked to school in 10 feet of snow uphill both ways, that’s not usually the case anymore.

With schools of choice, parents heading off to work and safety concerns, seeing children traipse through the neighborhood on their way to school is no longer a regular sight in many places.

But about 400 students took to the sidewalks Oct. 7, learning about healthy habits and safety during Masonic Heights Elementary School’s Walk-to-School/Walk-a-Thon Day.

Jamie Moore, the mother of two children at the school, said she appreciates that the Walk-to-School and Walk-a-Thon day gets the children out and exercising.

“They always look forward to it,” she said of the walks. “Everybody looks forward to meeting up to walk to school. Each class has personal goals (in the Walk-a-Thon as well).

“It’s a healthy thing to do on a school day.”

Even schools of choice students are able to participate in the event, as they are bused to the starting point near St. Margaret of Scotland Church so they can walk through the neighborhood with their friends.

For the first time this year, the school combined its fundraising Walk-a-Thon with National Walk to School Day, and invited community members to share safety and health lessons with the students. Students attended half-hour sessions throughout the day with a variety of community members who talked about health, fitness, safety and local government.

Amanda Krieg, a registered dietician with Henry Ford Hospital, told fourth-grade students that they “want to make sure you stay healthy so you don’t have to come see us in the hospital.”

She and registered nurse Julie Huck talked to the children about the importance of getting five servings of fruit and vegetables each day, experiencing less than two hours per day of screen time, cutting out drinks that contain added sugar and trying to fit in at least an hour of physical exercise each day.

Huck held up different drinks the children might take in their lunch or drink after playing sports, telling them that a Capris Sun has four teaspoons of added sugar, Gatorade has nine teaspoons of added sugar, Vitamin Water has eight teaspoons, soda pop has 10 teaspoons and even fruit juice has 15 teaspoons.

The best thing to drink after exercising, she said, is a glass of milk. And while fruit juice with no added sugar may sound healthy, “rather than drinking your fruit, you should eat your fruit.”

Fourth-grade teacher Lisa Szymanski said she thought it was a great idea for the students to hear about healthy habits like nutrition and exercise on the same day they get to experience it by walking to school and to raise money for field trips and other extras.

“Today, children get caught up with electronics a lot and don’t get outside to play,” she said. “Hopefully, that will get them out and excited about playing outside.”

The students said they really enjoy the walk to school as well.

“I think it’s really fun,” said 9-year-old fourth-grader Adelia Nasir, who said that sometimes she’s driven to school and sometimes she walks. “I think it’s great for exercise and I just love being outside.”

Ten-year-old fourth-grader Ethan Bruce agreed and said he was surprised to learn there was so much sugar in drinks.

Students also learned about recycling, county government, youth emergency preparedness, Jump Rope for Heart, and safety from the St. Clair Shores fire and police departments, as well as water safety from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Abanero told students about the importance of wearing their life vests on boats, which he said is a federal law for children younger than 13, and showed them a video of a dog the Coast Guard rescued off of the ice of Lake St. Clair last winter.

“Every winter we go onto the water and practice ice rescue,” he told students.

Masonic Heights Principal George Lewis said there are so many different community groups in the area that want to share their knowledge with the children that he felt it would be great to incorporate it all into a one-day event.

“We’re focusing on wellness and safety,” he said. “You want to create authentic experiences (and) having them all here on one day is extraordinarily engaging for the students.”

He said children at the school have been excited for the day since they heard about it in September, and he was happy to see the positive reactions of residents in the community as the students walked to school, as well.

“We have very few kids that walk anymore” on a daily basis, he said. “We like to do (this) to promote movement and physical activity.”