NU athletes and elementary kids walk together to promote a healthy, eco-friendly lifestyle

Junior Owen McKenna. Picture by Norwich University

On Wednesday Oct. 10, hundreds of Norwich student-athletes laced up their sneakers and joined a crowd of Northfield elementary school kids, walking together to the local primary school.
The event was part of the yearly National Walk to School Day, a global event that involves communities from more than 40 countries walking and biking to school on the same day. It began in 1997 as a one-day event. Over time, according to the event’s website, it has become part of a movement for year-round safe routes to school and a celebration – with record breaking participation – each October. Thousands of schools across America – from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico – now participate.
Football player Owen McKenna is one of the numerous athletes who made the commitment to set the alarm early in the morning in order to take part to the event.

“This is something I really wanted to be part of. When coach asked me if I would walk with the kids to school, I could not say no,” said McKenna, a junior war and peace major from Attleboro, Mass.
The event started outside the Sabine Field at 7 a.m., where numerous Norwich student-athletes met with the kids of Northfield and Mike Gonneville, a Norwich alumni and physical education teacher at the elementary school. Gonneville was the one in charge of addressing the group, and leading the walk to their destination.
“Gonneville gave us a speech introducing himself, and explaining how he attended Norwich back in the days,” said Garrett Chapell, a senior criminal justice major from Byron, N.Y. “It was humbling to see a Norwich grad doing such great things for the community.”
The group began to walk shortly after, heading down Main Street, through the center of Northfield, and then up to Vine Street. On the way to the destination, they all stopped at the Veteran’s Place, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance with the local veterans.
“This topped the morning off. It really touched me saying the pledge with the veterans of Northfield,” said Bo Phillips, a senior captain on the football team, from Chappaqua, N.Y.
The group finished the short walk to the elementary school on Cross Street, where Norwich student-athletes dropped the kids off, and returned back to NU in time for their classes.
“This was my first time doing the walk, and I really enjoyed it. It was nice to interact with the youth of the town of Northfield, and walk with them to school,” McKenna said.
McKenna, took part in the event along with 20 other football players. In total, over 150 Norwich students enjoyed the walk side by side with the elementary kids.
“Having Norwich college students from different sports teams walking with the youth really means a lot for the kids. They listen to us, and they look up to us so as role models,” said Mathew Buscanera, a sophomore from Baldwinville, Mass., and tight end on the football team.
Every sports team had five or more students participating in the event; some teams even had 30 plus of their own. A mixture of corps of cadets and civilian students volunteered to be part of the event.
“It was great to see many different teams involved, and the amount of students that showed up was just amazing,” Chapell said. “An event like this brings all the right ideas to the young kids. It keeps them safe and it gets them out doing exercise, which are all right habits that we need to be instilling in our youth.”
The Northfield elementary school has taken this national event even further. As long as the weather holds up, and it is not too cold, the same walk is held every Wednesday, in what are called “Walking Wednesdays.”
“I think it is great that they do this weekly. It does not only gets the community involved, but it gets young students out walking and being active instead of always taking the bus,” McKenna said.
Norwich students do not participate every week, as they only join in when the Walk and Bike to School organization hosts the national event in October.
“I think this is a great event. It brings the young kids joy and it highlights the community involvement for the safety of young kids walking to school on a daily basis,” Buscanera said.
The International Walk to School Day is not just a local community tradition.
Schools can register on the official website (www.walkbiketoschool.org), and get a national recognition as being part of the event. In 2017 a total 5,583 schools nationwide registered to the event, with this year count greater than that.
The main goal is to keep young kids active, showing them the importance of exercising and enjoying time in the open air. By doing so, communities benefit the reduction of air pollution while promoting the healthy habit of walking to places as much as possible, instead of using cars.
The organization’s secondary aim behind the event, is to support safety for kids across the country, and the world, and to encourage improvements regarding speed limits regulations in towns.
The Walk and Bike to School organization works closely with Vision Zero for Youth, an organization that encourages communities to take action and focus on safety enhancement, and pushes to slow traffic speed not only in school zones, but in areas where children and youth walk and bike.
Daily actions like walking to school instead of driving, or choosing to spend more time with the kids, are just simply steps towards a better community lifestyle.

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