By Anna Guido
MOUNT LOOKOUT - It's 8:30 a.m. and six Kilgour Elementary students are waiting at the bus stop in high spirits.
Two latecomers arrive and the group is ready to go. But where's the bus? With an about-face, they walk single file - without prodding - into Kyle and Sean McKillop's back yard, file through a narrow wooden gate, down a worn path behind a shed and onto the sidewalk one street over.
These kids didn't miss the bus. They are the bus - a "walking school bus." Their "driver" and chaperone is Kyle and Sean's dad, Jay McKillop, accompanied by, Orbit, the family dog.
"I'm not a health nut," McKillop said. "I'm more interested in my children having a lifestyle that involves activity."
McKillop's walking school bus is one of five parent-driven routes started at Kilgour this year and among a growing number of similar walk-to-school programs nationally aimed at promoting better health through physical activity.
Childhood obesity is causing nationwide concern. The Surgeon General recently reported that the number of overweight adolescents in the United States has nearly tripled, to 14 percent, in the past 20 years.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only 13 percent of American children walk or ride bikes to school, compared with more than 66 percent 30 years ago.
Kilgour, a K-6 Cincinnati Public school, is thought to be the only school of 79 in the district with a walking school bus program.
Principal Angela Cook said the concept gives children the opportunity to exercise their bodies as well as their minds.
"We're truly serving the whole child by allowing them to do this," Cook said. "I think it also brings us back to the basic humanity of how we want society to run - where students are not just learning in the school building, but are learning in the community."
Kilgour's program, called Walk2School, was inspired by McKillop, who's been walking or bicycling with his boys one-half mile to school nearly every day for three years.
Besides promoting fitness, program goals are to help families reconnect with their communities, reduce traffic congestion and fight pollution.
McKillop seizes the opportunity for yet another benefit - learning.
"Look, there's that orange car," 8-year-old Eva Patterson said.
"What kind of car is that?" McKillop asked.
"It's old because it looks all damaged and you said last time it was from your day," Eva answered.
"It's a Pontiac Firebird," McKillop said with a laugh.
Go by foot
International Walk to School Day is Wednesday. Kilgour Elementary in Mount Lookout is planning special events for this day.
In 1997, the Partnership for a Walkable America established Walk to School Day. The partnership is an alliance of organizations that promotes the health and social benefits of walking.
For information, go to www.walkableamerica.org
To learn more about National Walk to School Day, go to www.walktoschool-usa.org
For information about the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, contact Shawna Browne at (919) 962-7803 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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