FRANCONIA/SOUDERTON — It wouldn't be a West Broad Street Elementary School event without mascot Westie Bearington, who, as usual, was there for the school's Oct. 3 participation in National Walk to School Day.

Starting in the Univest parking lot at Main and Broad streets in Souderton and accompanied by Souderton and Franconia police officers, the walkers headed down W. Broad Street to the school in Franconia. 

"It's just a fun event where almost the whole school participates," said Coleen Thompson, vice president of the Home & School group and co-chair, with Trish McGrath, of the walk. 

"We get students and parents and teachers all walking together," Thompson said. 

West Broad Street Elementary is the only Souderton Area School District school that is part of the national event, she said. 

As the walkers approached the school building, they were offered bananas, doughnut holes and bottled water. There was also information giving safety tips for pedestrians. 

This year's walk also included Liz Van Aulen, of the Montgomery County Department of Health & Human Resources; Montgomery County Planning Commission Assistant Section Chief of County Planning Anne Leavitt-Gruberger; and Andrew Besold, a transportation planner with the county planning commission.

The three are doing the Safe Routes to School program with West Broad Street Elementary this year, Van Aulen said. 

"We want to increase walkership and we want to make sure that students are safe when they walk," she said. 

Other focuses include driving behavior and bike safety, she said. 

"We want to make sure that kids have a safe way to get to school — if they're walking, if they're riding their bike, even when they're getting out of their parent's car and crossing the street," Van Aulen said.

Besold said he and Leavitt-Gruberger will also be looking at the infrastructure around town and making recommendations for improvements, such as, for example, additional sidewalks.

"What's nice about that, though, is once you build a sidewalk, it's there for everybody," he said. "It's not just there for the children to use, but for everybody in the community." 

In places where there are already sidewalks or trails, there are still ways to make improvements, he said. 

Safe Routes to School is a year-long endeavor, including a committee of parents, school representatives and local law enforcement, Van Aulen said. 

"I'll be coming into the school throughout the year and doing education with the kids focusing on pedestrian and bike safety and the benefits of exercise," she said. Following the year-long program, the schools in which it is held are expected to continue the efforts, she said.  

Students spending 15 minutes walking each way to and from school meet half of the recommended 60 minutes a day of exercise, Besold said. 

There is also evidence walking to school improves academic scores, he said. 

"The kids come in, they're more alert," Besold said. "They got their heart going; they're ready to learn."

Safe Routes to School is being done with about five different Montgomery County schools this year, he said, and rotates each year to other schools.

Information on the Safe Routes to School program is available on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation website.  

"By improving pedestrian and bicycle routes to its schools, a community is encouraging students to walk and bicycle to school, thus increasing their activity and helping to improve children's health," the site says. "Likewise, a municipality that makes safe, sustainable pedestrian and bicycle routes an integral part of its overall infrastructure plan is reducing traffic congestion, lessening air pollution, and creating a more desirable community in which residents have a variety of ways to get around."

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