What do pigs and face paint have to do with physical activity? Students at Northeast Elementary School in Waltham, MA can tell you the answer. The link is Northeast Elementary’s active transport program called Northeast Walks! The program encompasses a series of activities throughout the school year that encourage students to be active by walking to school and walking during recess. Students eagerly participate, not only because walking is fun and feels good, but also because Northeast keeps the program interesting by adding entertaining incentives to the mix. Every spring, Northeast challenges the student body to walk to school for the first full week of May. In return, the Principal and Assistant Principal agree to get a little silly. One year they kissed a pig. Another, they donned blue and yellow face paint for a day, Northeast’s school colors.
Northeast Walks! began seven years ago as an offshoot of the school’s Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds initiative. The program started as a one-time event; participating students signed on to walk to school every day for one week. Since then, Northeast Walks! has evolved to include Walking Wednesdays, two week-long walk-to-school events in October and May, a recess Walking Club, and an all-school neighborhood walk in the spring. Walking has become integral to the culture of Northeast Elementary, and as Principal Nadene Stein attests, the response from the students has been fantastic. “Our students love to walk,” she shares, “and they are excited when a bus is empty on the way to school because all students have permission to walk.”
On Walking Wednesdays students congregate at meeting points, or “bus stops”, where they join their walking group. Staff and parents chaperone the “walking school bus” and together they head to school, picking up other students who live along the route. Three different meeting locations allow students from all sides of town the opportunity to easily participate. Student enthusiasm for the program is evident in the number of participants. Principal Stein is proud to report that close to 90% of Northeast’s students take part in Walking Wednesdays throughout the year. Pass by one of Northeast’s walking school buses and you will probably hear students cheerfully calling out “Hoot! Hoot!” in response to the walking cheer – “Northeast Walks to School!”