Published October 19th, 2016
Lafayette's Walk/Bike to School Day: Teachable Fun
By Pippa Fisher
From left, Mayor Mark Mitchell, Jonathan Winter and Emily Pietrzak. Photo Pippa Fisher
Despite a chilly start to the morning of Walk/Bike to School Day, the atmosphere in the Plaza at Lafayette Elementary School was warm and welcoming as children and families arrived at school and enjoyed bagels and coffee to celebrate walking, biking and in many cases, even scooter riding to school.

School parent and Walk/Bike to School chair Emily Pietrzak arranged the gathering as part of an International Walk to School Day on Oct. 5, the focus of which is aimed primarily at decreasing traffic, safety education and physical activity.

"I think it's so important to get the word out about this, particularly given that our school is in the heart of downtown," she said. "There's a lot we all can do to cut down on our car dependency." She said that most school families live within walking distance. Roughly 35 percent of the school's students currently walk or bike to school.

But as Piertzak points out, although Lafayette Elementary is the city's most "walkable" school, it is situated in the most congested area, which raises safety concerns.

Mayor Mark Mitchell attended and explained that it is the city's wish to work closely with the schools to improve sidewalks and safety.

School Principal Ann Kim said, "We are proud that our community places such a high value on coming together to encourage a healthy and active lifestyle for our children. Our school district is working with the city and the police department to reduce traffic congestion by promoting safe walking and biking routes to school for our students."

She made the point that, "Activities such as Walk/Bike to School Day also encourage our parents to get to know one another better and meet neighbors."

And certainly to the children enjoying snacks and socializing before school on that chilly morning, it was all about fun. PTA President Christina Tibbals pointed out that it is another example of how such events add to the sense of community.

Stefania Kaplanes, parent of a third-grader and kindergartener, rode bikes with her children on that morning. She said that in her work in the trauma department at Highlands Hospital she sees many injuries that are the result of disregarding safety. For her, she said that it is all about helmet safety, crosswalk safety and wearing protective and reflective gear.

The enthusiasm for walking or biking to school continued in the classroom with activities such as graphing in first grade through the day. Stickers were being handed out and worn with pride by those who did not arrive by car.

At least one of the teachers cycled in. The science teacher, Jonathon Winter, setting an excellent example in his protective clothing, was quite the celebrity in the Plaza as the children spotted him. He says he cycles in quite often.

The Walk to School organization claims that a one-time event such as this one can increase the number of students who walk or bike to school even weeks after the day of the event.

So keep an eagle eye out for diminutive scholars heading into school and give them plenty of room - they are keeping fit AND reducing congestion downtown.

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Copyright Lamorinda Weekly, Moraga CA