An unusual number of students flooded the sidewalks on their way to school in celebration of International Walk to School Day.
Nationwide, more than 4,000 schools in all 50 states participated. Locally, schools in Scottsbluff, Gering and Mitchell participated.
Students from Westmoor Elementary gathered at three locations near the school where they were joined by school staff members, athletes from Scottsbluff High School and members of the Western Nebraska Community College softball team. The Bearcat mascot also made an appearance, high fiving kids as they approached the schools.
“I think it’s good to get involved,” said Kellen Hayes, who is on the Scottsbluff football team.
His teammate, Aaron Price, added that participating sets a good example for the younger children.
“It’s good to do it because they’re the ones that are going to be doing things like this someday,” he said.
Jennifer Schwartz, a fifth grade teacher at Westmoor Elementary, said the event was a way to highlight an active lifestyle and encourage safe walking and biking practices. A new program at the school, Walking or Wheeling Wednesday, will have staff members waiting at three nearby locations every Wednesday to accompany children who want to walk.
“We’re hoping that walking becomes a more regular thing,” she said.
For many students, like Westmoor first-grader Avery Holmes, walking to school isn’t a common occurrence because she lives too far away.
“We usually drive,” said her father, Carlo Holmes. “I wanted her to have a new experience.”
Roman Hernandez, a Westmoor fourth grader, said he wanted to participate because a lot of his friends were. One of his friends, Trenton Gion, said he wanted to be there because he enjoys walking.
“I don’t get to walk to school because we have to drop off my brother at middle school, so it doesn’t really work out,” said Kaymbree Delgado, a Westmoor fourth-grader who was excited for the change in routine.
Along their route, staff members utilized safety equipment such as reflective vests and stop signs, which were purchased with the help of grant funds from the Tri-City Active Living Advisory Committee.
“We’ve done walk audits to see what can be done to improve safety,” committee member Mindy Baird said. "We saw that some children were afraid to walk to school.”
Baird said they discussed needs with the schools and offered up to $1,000 per school to purchase items that would make the trip to school safer for students.
She said it’s vital that parents be vigilant and avoid distracted driving. They also need to teach their children safe habits when it comes to walking or rolling to school.
Sherry Hart with Carealot Daycare in Gering said she enjoys her morning and afternoon walks to the school.
“I enjoy the conversations you get to have with them,” she said. “I walk everyday with preschoolers and elementary students in the morning and come back after school.”
As she and the students walk, Hart said she teaches them safety.
“I want to instill a sense of safety, so they are watching for cars when they’re crossing the street,” she said. “I’ve told them to wait for the driver to wave them on before going into the street.”
Once the students got to the block next to the school, they were greeted by student council crossing helpers. Like the staff at Westmoor, the student council members were dressed in reflective and light up vests and carried a light up stop sign.
Emme Tofflemire was one of Wednesday’s crossing helpers, which she said is a tough job.
“It’s hard trying to get the kids across the street,” Tofflemire said. “I want to keep the kids safe.”
Brooke Greene and Lilly Moser also helped their peers cross the street for walk and bike to School Day.
Greene and Moser both walked to school Wednesday and said they enjoy the exercise.
“We always walk,” Moser said. “It's fun just being able to get outside and not just sitting in a car on the way to school.”
Greene added, “Walking is good so you can exercise and be stronger when you grow up.”
After arriving at the school, the students walked with signs reading, “Safety Starts with Me” and “Safety for Kids, Everyone Wins.”