October is International Walk to School Month. The monthly tradition of Club Boulevard Elementary’s Walk-to-School Day is the product of former Club Boulevard parent Mark Dessauer’s passion for promoting physical activity in young students. Mark and his wife, Betsy’s, sons, Theo, 11, and Oscar, 14, attended the school, and, back in 2009, he noticed students were missing chances to get in some much needed exercise.
“[Providing] kids [with the] opportunity to run through our amazing parks in Durham on the way to school … you shouldn’t have to think it’s a luxury and [that] you have to build a program to do it – but [then] you do, and it was a success,” says Mark, who works at Spitfire Strategies, a company that helps foundations and nonprofits – many of which work on issues surrounding childhood obesity and public health – communicate their messages.
After pitching the idea at a PTA meeting and coordinating a plan with Durham Public Schools, Club Boulevard Walk-to-School Day was implemented.
On the first Wednesday of every month, school buses carrying students stop at Northgate Park. The kids are greeted with high-fives and take a half-mile walk to Club Boulevard together with parents and staff. Some of the more excited students even run during the 15- to 20-minute journey to school. Students are eager to remind their bus drivers that it’s “Walking Wednesday,” no matter the weather. Mark estimates that – along with half of the students who are dropped off to school by car – up to 80% of Club’s students take part in the tradition. To ensure all kids can join in the fun, school staff accommodate students enrolled in early child care and will bring them to Northgate Park to participate.
During the important testing month of May, attempts are made to hold Walking Wednesday each week. Mark also notes that teachers reach out to him acknowledge a decrease in behavioral problems and an improvement in student attentiveness following Walking Wednesdays. Almost eight years later, Mark credits the success of Walking Wednesdays to the effort of Durham Public Schools, parents and staff who made this a part of Club’s identity.
“When you have something like this built into a school’s culture, that makes for an amazing place to go to school,” Mark says.