Students walk, bike to school to stay fit

<p>Umatilla police officer Keith Kennedy fits 7-year-old Juliza Sanguino with a helmet Wednesday at McNary Heights Elementary School during the National Walk and Bike to School Day.</p>

In an effort to improve the obesity rates and bicycle and street safety, five area schools encouraged its students to participate in the National Walk and Bike to School Day Wednesday morning.

Kathy Thomas, health educator at Good Shepherd Medical Center, said obesity was identified as the No. 1 risk factor for all age categories throughout Umatilla County, and that the walk and bike to school day is just one of potentially many efforts to encourage students to live healthier lives. She said this is the fourth year schools in the area have participated in the event.

Thomas said even though the walk and bike to school day is a small step, she believes it is a step in the right direction in encouraging physical activity within the community.

“It is one way to encourage children and families to get up and move,” she said.

Thomas said, whereas 80 percent of students used to walk to school, that number is now down to 40 percent.

“We have lost that built-in exercise program,” she said. “We have to start some way. Even with those baby steps.”

The number of schools participating in the event were Rocky Heights Elementary School, West Park Elementary School, Highland Hills Elementary School, Sandstone Middle School and McNary Heights Elementary School.

Students were encouraged to either walk, bike or ride their scooters to school that morning. Students at West Park received reflective blinkers the day before to they could wear them while they going to school that morning.

Additionally, if students rode the bus, some schools had buses drop the students off a few blocks from their buildings so they, too, could walk to school. McNary Heights also fitted bike-riders who didn’t already have protective gear with helmets.

“We see a lot of kids out riding without a helmet,” McNary Vice Principal Rick Cotterell said. “We want kids out here being safe.”

Cotterell said officials also want to make sure students are aware of safe bicycle and pedestrian practices. To help educate students, a number of Umatilla police officers volunteered their time to show students across cross walks near the school.

Thomas said Rocky Heights was the first school to participate in the walk and bike to school day and has set the standard for all other schools by participated every year.

She said members of the parent-teacher organization at the various schools also ensure everything is in order for the event, including organizing for crossing guards and more.

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