Walk to School Day


In the early morning dark, hundreds of parents and students took to the streets of Soldotna, Alaska, before school. Wednesday, October 2, 2013, was a typical brisk morning on the Kenai Peninsula: gold leaves falling, frost on the ground, active moose and bear, and less and less visible light when youth walk or bike to school, and wait at bus stops, often on busy roads.

Families, students, and staff from Redoubt Elementary, Soldotna Elementary, and Soldotna Montessori participated in an annual Walk to School Day along with members of police and fire departments, and other community members. Rain, shine, or snow, the walk was on.

John Pothast, principal at Redoubt Elementary said his school has participated in the annual walk for several years. "I most appreciate this event because it highlights the importance of safety for our students who walk to school," said Pothast. "We always have the fire department with their trucks, and the police, and through those community agencies, we highlight our students walking to school to encourage our greater community to be very aware of our students who are out and about on our streets and sidewalks. Our hope is that drivers will be extra cautious when driving, and watch out for the safety of everyone who walk and ride bikes or scooters in our community!" More than 225 students and parents walked to Redoubt Elementary, and then packed the gym after the walk for hot cocoa, juice, muffins, and door prizes including bike helmets.

Soldotna Montessori started the walk and bike to school last year. "John Czarnezki, a parent here, was instrumental in encouraging me to participate in the Safe Routes to School program which led us to participating in the Walk to School program," said Mo Sanders, principal. "I am always ready for a fun community event for families–especially one that has a positive health outcome."

Czarnezki's interest in the Walk to School Day was sparked by his background and education in urban planning, a desire for safe sidewalks, walking paths, and connectivity in neighborhoods, schools, and recreation areas for youth and the community. He and his daughter joined dozens of other parents and children for the annual walk, and Czarnezki believes we need to do our part to become more active. "If kids do want to walk to school, I see too many impediments. It can be difficult to cross busy streets without dedicated crosswalks at the schools, snow often blocks sidewalks and pathways, and in some cases the paths or sidewalks don't exist between the neighborhoods and the schools." Czarnezki said a three part grant from the Safe Routes to School Program is making a difference in Soldotna. Educational resources for students and parents are already taking place, and linkages including sideway gaps, lighting, and bike storage among other improvements and projects are being identified. Part three of the grant will address infrastructure changes.

Soldotna Elementary and Montessori schools share a building and walked together. Several students with their mothers took a minute to stop and push the crosswalk button at Park Avenue and Binkley Street near the post office. They waited for the light to change, and a walking pedestrian symbol lit in white lights to appear, indicating it was safe to cross. "This is why we are doing this walk," called out another parent walking farther ahead. "We want you to stop, and know how to safely cross a busy street."

"This is our second year at Soldotna Elementary. We are happy to be working with Jane Fellman and SafeKids to create awareness about safe practices for kids when they are walking to school or playing afterwards. Our goal is to keep kids safe and healthy," said Teri Diamond, Soldotna Elementary principal.

Dr. Atwater, superintendent, walked with Redoubt Elementary, and said, "The kids were excited to get the reflectors and understand the importance of being visible when walking to school. The annual Walk your Child to School day is an excellent way to demonstrate the importance of wellness to our students. I very much appreciate the coordination efforts that KPBSD staff takes to make this day a success."

Each student received a clip-on reflector for his or her jacket, and during the school celebrations door prizes, hot cocoa, and snacks were provided. Schools in Seward also plan a walk to school day each year, however, many KPBSD schools are in rural neighborhoods, and don't plan an activity such as this. For example, Principal Doug Hayman from Tustumena Elementary said they do not, due to the school location, growing darkness, and active bears in the area. Local students in Soldotna had a positive experience, and numbers were doubled from the previous year.

Contact Jane Fellman with Safe Kids if you would like to receive free reflective tape for your child's jacket. Call 907-714-4539 or email safekids@cpgh.org.


Safe Kids Kenai Peninsula
Walk and Bike to School Day
State of Alaska Safe Routes to School Program
Request free reflector tape from Alaska Injury Prevention Center (AIPC)

KPBSD Facebook Logo 2013 SML