In the run-up to one of the most significant annual events for schools looking to educate children about healthy living, we take a look at Walk to School Week.
Anna Coates works for the Department for Regional Development Roads Service as Travelwise NI Schools Co-ordinator. In the
run-up to Walk to School Week, May 19 to 23, Anna explains the importance of educating children and young people on the benefits of sustainable transport.
Q. Can you explain the role of Travelwise NI?
A. Travelwise NI is a Department for Regional Development Roads Service initiative that aims to encourage employers, commuters and schools to use more sustainable forms of transport and enjoy the health, environmental and time-saving benefits of walking, cycling, using public transport and car-sharing. My particular role focuses on encouraging schools across Northern Ireland to embrace sustainable transport through organised events targeting parents, pupils and teaching staff as well as using engaging classroom based activities.
Q. Why is it important to encourage more parents to adopt sustainable forms of transport for the school run?
A. At rush hour it's estimated that the school run accounts for 20% of all traffic on the road. We need an efficient transport system to deal with our needs but over reliance on cars is becoming increasingly detrimental to our health, damaging to our countryside, towns and cities, adversely affecting the economy and even changing the climate of the planet.
Q. What does your work with Schools involve?
A. The Travelwise ‘Safer Route to Schools’ (SRS) initiative is a sustainable transport initiative that aims to tackle issues surrounding the school run. It is an annual programme that includes approximately 30 schools each year to promote sustainable modes of travel. It includes education and awareness of travel issues within the classroom and measures to encourage safer walking, cycling, use of public transport and car sharing.
Participating schools receive a range of education and awareness materials and where appropriate physical infrastructure improvements within the school grounds and on the public road. Support and advice is given and schools wishing to be considered in the programme are assessed and then included in the annual programme on the basis of their priority rating.
Q. What kind of education & awareness materials are available for schools?
A. The Education & Awareness materials have been developed in conjunction with local Education authorities. Best Foot Forward for Schools is a curriculum based package that aims to educate key stage two children (aged 7-11) on street and traffic awareness so that they feel confident walking, cycling or taking the bus to school.
All the resources have been developed to educate and inform young people about sustainable travel issues and provide information to help them become more proactive in finding solutions to the transportation problems that affect their school and their local community. These resources are available to every primary school in Northern Ireland.
Q. When do the organised events take place?
A. Every May we organise the annual Travelwise NI Walk to School Week to encourage more pupils to walk to school. They will benefit from improved health and fitness through the increased physical exercise, reduced congestion at school gates, improved air quality and a safer environment in and around the school. As a further development of Walk to School Week we have the WOW initiative – Walk or Wheels on Weekdays or Walk/Wheels Once a Week. Then we also have the annual Bike Week in June which promotes cycling for all journeys, including going to school. All schools across Northern Ireland are invited to participate in Travelwise NI Schools events.
Q. What other support is available to schools that qualify?
A. There's an ‘Enhanced Programme’ which includes the development of a school travel plan and appropriate infrastructure improvements within the school grounds and the public road. Where a school progresses to the enhanced programme the Department of Education will provide a more extensive range of infrastructural measures to support sustainable transport and these will be tailored to the needs of the school arising out of its travel plan.
For further information on Travelwise NI sustainable transport initiatives, ring 0845 378 0908 or go to www.travelwiseni.com
Pictured is Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy with pupils of St Michael's PS during the launch of last year's Walk to School Week.