Lifestyle

Walk to school trial a success in Shepparton

By Shepparton News

A walking program trial two schools participated in resulted in an increase, of more than a third, of walks to school.

The VicHealth-funded Change to Walking program, delivered by Victoria Walks, was trialled at Bourchier St Primary School in Shepparton and Epping Views Primary School.

The program reported an increase in walking to school by a combined 34 per cent.

The six-week program ran across May and June and used small prompts and incentives to encourage students and families to walk, cycle or scoot at least one more day a week.

Victoria Walks chief executive Ben Rossiter said it was an amazing result.

‘‘Especially given the Change to Walking program commenced at the start of winter when the cold weather was setting in.’’

Bourchier St principal Denise Howley said it had been wonderful to see children arriving at school with more energy.

‘‘You can see some children who switched to walking are bubblier and many have a greater confidence in themselves as a result of walking to school with family, friends or on their own,’’ she said.

Overall, the increase in regular walking as a result of the program equated to 134 fewer cars around the primary schools and an extra 187 students walking.

‘‘Families with older children indicated that the program had prompted discussions about independent travel not just to school but to other activities,’’ Dr Rossiter said.

‘‘Parents often cite concerns about traffic or not having enough time as reasons for driving, but this program gave families the confidence and encouragement to try walking and then to experience the benefits such as discovering it was quicker to walk than drive or having stress-free time with their children.’’

Parents were sent a letter from the school principal asking each family to pledge to walk one day more than they usually did and included information about walking’s benefits and a map identifying 15-minute walking routes to school, which had been audited by local councils.

Year 1 and 2 students made the biggest switch to walking and responded particularly well to stickers and classroom encouragement such as wall charts tallying active travel trips.

Older students responded well to the fun footpath decals along the walking routes but also to badges that helped show they were all involved together.

VicHealth chief executive Jerril Rechter said the results were encouraging and could inform future Walk to School programs.

‘‘Walking to school is an obvious way to boost activity, but we know that about 70 per cent of parents who travel with their kids to school do so by car, even those who live within 750m of school,’’ she said.