Students walk instead of taking the bus to school

POSTED: 08:15 AM MST Feb 01, 2013    UPDATED: 12:30 PM MST Feb 01, 2013 
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -

Despite the chilly temperatures, some local students walked to school Thursday. It's called a Polar Bear Walk. It promotes exercise during the wintertime, but educators say it's about more than just walking.

Without the push from one organization to keep kids safe while walking to school, the trek to class could be much more dangerous for local kids.

"We like to use walk-to-school days to get some fresh air before we head to class," said Karrin Allen, mother of son Ethan.

For Allen, a quick walk to school means the world to her. It's an extra 10 minutes she gets to spend with her son.

"We wanted to keep walking -- we saw some birds, we did a little running, we talked about dogs, so it was fun," said Allen.

As a child, Allen herself used to ride her bike to school every day. She is pleased to see the safe sidewalks and bike paths put in place in Idaho Falls to help get her son to school safely.

"I'd rather know that he can be safe to walk versus choosing to drive to avoid safety hazards," said Allen.

Students in districts 91 and 93 braved the cold weather to walk to school for the first annual Polar Bear Walk, which was sponsored by Bonneville Metropolitan Planning Organization. The organization applies for grants to help raise awareness of the exercise students get from walking to school and the benefits of installing safe pathways for students.

Dr. Sarah Sanders, principal of Bush Elementary says this program helps keep more than half her students who walk to school safe, and happy.

"It's a healthy activity. It's good for them to have the social time when they're walking to school and to just get the fresh air," said Dr. Sanders.

Over the past three years, Safe Routes to School coordinator DaNiel Jose has helped add bike paths and walking paths for schools in Iona, Ucon, and Districts 91 and 93.

"It's really important, especially in Iona, because there's no sidewalks at all in a lot of the areas. So that pathway is the only way for them to safely get to school," said Jose.

Since Safe Routes to School is a federal program, funding this year is up in the air. Last October, a new transportation bill was signed that no longer makes the federal government set an earmark amount to the funding that goes to the Safe Routes to School program.

This could put the program in jeopardy.

Jose said earlier Thursday that less money could put a possible pause in future projects, like putting in safe drop-off zones for Idaho Falls District 91 schools.

A decision of how much money will go to the Safe Routes to School program will not be made until late spring.