It’s too bad there was no space shuttle landing Wednesday: The astronauts could have taken great pictures on their way back to Earth of people walking to school all over the planet on International Walk to School Day.
In Columbia, it was a wonderful morning for walking: on the warm side for fall but clear and breezy, with lots of leaves to scuff. Seven public schools and one private school participated; and a ninth, Good Shepherd Lutheran School, held a field day on pedestrian safety.
Mayor Darwin Hindman, who walked with his grandson, Jack Thomas, a fifth-grader at Fairview Elementary School, said the event was good exercise, fun, saved on gas, and reduced pollution and congestion around the city’s schools.
“I encourage (school children) to get out right now and join the walking school bus,” Hindman said, urging them not to wait for next year’s International Walk to School Day. The event, launched a decade ago in England, was expected to draw four million walkers across 40 countries this year.
Children in Columbia agreed the best part about walking to school was the buddy factor.
“I get to see my friends before school and talk to them,” said Claire Majerus, a fourth-grader at Columbia Catholic School, “and you don’t get to talk very much during the day.”
It was also a chance for two mothers, Melissa Hamilton and Allison Smith, to have a few minutes together. The women, who live across the street from one another near Green Meadows Road, didn’t know each other until their daughters, Taylor Hamilton and Davi Smith, began riding the same bus to kindergarten at Grant Elementary School.
On Wednesday, the mothers and daughters discovered one another in the D&H Drugstore parking lot at Broadway and West Boulevard, where some Grant walkers were meeting; the foursome joined about 30 other kids, 40 grown-ups and a puppy named Onyx on the trek to school.
Also walking were five Tigers, members of the MU women’s basketball team, which has a partnership with Grant. Women’s basketball director Edith Thompson lined up the players to lead the crowd in an “energy check,” a series of claps and whoops that fired everyone up. The group started out en masse but quickly stretched into a block-long parade heading east on Broadway.
This is the first year for Luke Goldstein, a Grant third-grader, to walk with the Quarry Heights neighborhood “walking school bus” — a group of children who walk to school with a leader. The program, an arm of the Columbia Public School District, is administered by PedNet; buses are led by volunteers, parents, college students and neighbors who have gone through a one-hour training and had their backgrounds checked.
Luke’s father, Dan Goldstein, said the walking school bus idea works — and it’s contagious.
“If it’s a big enough group, it’s more fun,” said Goldstein, who has watched the walking bus grow in his neighborhood, “and it gets to be kind of a party.”
Grant first-grader Joseph Vandepopuliere was walking to school for the first time ever Wednesday.
“We live down West Broadway, far, far, far. far away from school,” said his mother, Linda Vandepopuliere. Usually, she drives her son the distance because “Grant is the best school in Columbia.”
Joseph said he wasn’t too sure about the idea of walking every day.
“My legs might get too tired, even though they’re not right now,” he said, heading into the playground for apple juice and bagels as other walkers came in from three directions. Beverly Borduin, Grant’s principal, estimated that at least 150 people participated at her school, which made it one of the biggest turnouts among the eight.
The only public schools that joined in walk-to-school day are those that have at least one walking school bus. Most of the schools that didn’t participate are on the district’s priority list for sidewalk improvements. The list, part of a proposed master sidewalk plan for Columbia, will be considered at a city council work session tonight.
Brent Hugh, executive director of the Missouri Bike Federation and a member of the Missouri Safe Routes to School advisory committee, said people walking builds community support for safer streets and sidewalks.
“The more people who walk, the less traffic there is, which makes it more appealing for even more people to walk,” Hugh said.
Walkers at each school had the chance to win prizes in a drawing held at each school. Portia McLaurin, a Grant second-grader, won two tickets for a free roller-skating session at Empire Roller Rink.
“I’m very happy,” Portia said. “I already know how to rollerblade, but now I can learn the four-wheel kind.”
Fifth-grader Alan Rees didn’t have to walk far to win passes to the ARC, the other prize handed out at Grant.
“I just walked 2 and a half blocks,” he said.
Missourian reporters Vannah Shaw, Tyler Metzger and Liz Eyraud contributed to this article.