Walking with her son to school in the morning is Amelia Barile-Simon’s favorite part of her day. Despite the decline of children walking and biking to school in recent years, Barile-Simon wants to make sure her son gets to experience what it was like not long ago when children moved around their neighborhoods by foot or on bicycle. With programs like Safe Routes to School – a national movement to create safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from schools – more and more children are able to rediscover what it’s like to get to school through a different mode of transportation.
“When the County received the “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” grant (now called “Healthy Works”), it brought increased funding for all kinds of wonderful initiatives including Safe Routes to School,” said Barile-Simon. “That’s when I learned much more about what schools had already been doing with Safe Routes to School and that there’s still a long way to go.”
As a Community Health Promotion Specialist with the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency’s Central Region, Barile-Simon was one of the many County staff who helped support and create Safe Routes to School programs in local schools and is promoting walking and biking activities in San Diego County.
“We want to have safe and healthy communities,” said Barile-Simon. “It goes hand in hand – you can’t have health without safety. One of the reasons parents are nervous or hesitant to let their children walk to school is because of safety reasons. One of my passions is working with the community to bring other parents, partner organizations and volunteers together to help be there for the kids. We don’t ever want these children to be walking alone and feel unsafe.”
To help parents feel at ease about letting their children walk or bike to school, Barile-Simon recommends several resources for children to safely participate in Safe Routes to School activities:
Barile-Simon’s passion for encouraging County residents to bike and walk to school comes, in part, from her own experience as a parent of a young student.
“As a mom, I know the benefits of finding alternatives to dropping your kids off right in front of school,” said Barile-Simon. “Some parents wait in lines for 15-20 minutes to pull right up to the curb and have their child walk 20 feet. When my child was in kindergarten, we would park two blocks away and walk one or two blocks to drop him off at school while avoiding all the traffic.”
Almost every school has an alternative drop off spot – whether it’s informal or formal – where parents and children can get a little exercise. Instead of having to wait in line and be frustrated, families can have a short walk together, get to know the neighborhood a little better and build rapport with the surrounding community.
The best part of Barile-Simon’s morning walks with her son?
“I enjoy getting to see who his friends are,” she says. “I think it’s very important to build a school community. When parents are walking their kids, they get to know other parents and the other kids on campus."
Barile-Simon wants San Diego County residents to know that if their school doesn’t currently have a Safe Routes to School Program, any school can start on the annual International Walk to School Day – a global event that involves communities from more than 40 countries walking and biking to school on the same day each October. This year, the event is held on Wednesday, October 8.
“There’s a national website with great information. For local support, a parent volunteer or school staff member can visit the Safe Routes to School Coalition (we’re a very friendly group!) and learn about what they can do to get started,” said Barile-Simon.