Every year, COAST sponsors Walk to School Day at schools throughout the Santa Barbara area with the goal of raising awareness of walking and bicycling.

Adams Elementary students and parents form a walking school bus on Walk to School Day. (COAST photo)

Adams Elementary students and parents form a “walking school bus” on Walk to School Day. (COAST photo)

Our hope is that by getting people to experience the health, environmental and community benefits of walking or bicycling to school at least one day, they will be more apt to try it a second day and then a third. Where there is high participation, Walk to School Day can be magical, with the school parking lot being unnaturally vacant and neighborhood streets pleasantly and almost eerily quiet.

This year, the turnout on Walk to School Day was phenomenal, and the most common adjective used to describe the event was “Fun!” Consider the reports we received:

» Mountain View Elementary: “We had 207 participants, and they were all very excited and happy. We’ll have a raffle later today, and celebrated with balloons and banners this morning.”

» Hollister Elementary: “We had 214 students walk/bike/scooter/skateboard. That’s a record for us (over the last three years at least)!”

» Vieja Valley elementary: “We had a great turnout today, even though our sixth-graders are away at camp this week. Next month we are planning on having a map displayed and having the kids pin where they ride or walk from. That will give us an idea of how far kids ride and how safe our routes are.”

The junior highs got into the spirit, too:

» Goleta Valley Junior High: “We had a great turnout: 387 students! That’s more than one-third of the school. Typically fewer than 200 students sign in at the table, so this represents a doubling from previous years.”

» La Cumbre Junior High: “Event was fun … we had 269 walkers, 18 bikers and 40 bus riders.”

How does COAST get such participation? Primarily we identify and support parent volunteers within the schools, and provide them with resources, donations and logistical help. The parent volunteers then work with their respective principals and PTAs to get the word out via newsletters, classroom and public-address announcements, and “tele-parent” calls.

A Goleta Valley Junior High School student and her mother ride bikes to school. (COAST photo)

A Goleta Valley Junior High School student and her mother ride bikes to school. (COAST photo)

Many schools make the event festive with balloons and music provided by the school band or orchestra. COAST donates snacks and raffle prizes to further entice participation. And a few schools, such as Foothill elementary, even organize parent-led “walking school buses” and “bike trains.” The result? More than 5,000 students participated in Walk to School Day this year!

Our hope is that Walk to School Day will make families and students realize how easy it is to walk or bike. A walk that might seem insurmountable at first turns out to be not just easy, but to provide secondary benefits as well: quality time talking with one’s children; enjoying the weather and neighborhood; getting some exercise; reducing air pollution. Walking to school is a quality-of-life decision in every way. COAST says: Let’s make every day Walk to School Day!

So a big thank you to all the parent volunteers, students, principals and administrators for organizing this event at their respective schools. For the record, the schools that participated were: elementary schools: Adams, Adelante, Aliso, Brandon, Canalino, Carpinteria Family, Cleveland, Cold Spring, El Camino, Ellwood, Foothill, Franklin, Harding, Hollister, Hope, Isla Vista, Kellogg, La Patera, Monroe, Monte Vista, Montecito Union, Mountain View, Peabody, Santa Barbara Charter, Vieja Valley, Washington; junior high schools: Carpinteria Middle, Goleta Valley, La Colina, La Cumbre, Santa Barbara; and high schools: Carpinteria.

— Chase Wilson represents COAST.