Many of us remember childhood days spent walking or riding bikes to school. In the 1960’s, this is how approximately 50% of children got to school. Today, fewer than 15% walk or ride bikes as a means of transportation and rates of childhood obesity are at alarming levels. Parent concerns about traffic safety are one of the primary reasons why children are now more commonly driven to school. Additional concerns include community violence, lack of adult supervision, infrastructure needs, and lack of crossing guards.
For several years, the County of San Diego has supported and promoted Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs in local schools as a way to halt this increasing trend in obesity and encourage more children to once again walk or bike to school. Parents, school officials and county/community partners have worked together to remove barriers such as dangerous intersections and a lack of eyes on the street, that prevent children from biking or walking to school.
Another powerful team of allies has also joined the cause in recent years: Older adults! Through funding and support from the Health and Human Services Agency Aging & Independence Services, several Intergenerational SRTS programs have been created around the county, reaping rewards across the generations. In addition to the obvious benefits that children derive from increased physical activity, older adults gain rewards such as a decrease in isolation, improved mood and better overall health as well.
The first Intergenerational SRTS program began in the city of La Mesa in 2011. The program encourages older adults to volunteer as “eyes on the street” as students walk or bicycle to and from school. The program enhances the safety of students while also providing an opportunity for regular physical activity and social interaction for both young and old alike. Getting kids out of cars and encouraging them to walk or bike to school is a logical way to increase activity and encourages them to adopt healthy lifestyle habits at an early age. Older adults walk alongside students, serving to reinforce the importance of regular physical activity at any age and providing students and parents with the comfort of an extra set of eyes for safety as students make their way to and from school. The program also provides the opportunity for the students to become acquainted with and appreciate the older adult residents in their neighborhoods.
Older adults in the La Mesa program volunteered over 530 hours during this past school year at several different schools within the La Mesa-Spring Valley School district. One of these devoted older adults is Dan (pictured above), who volunteers multiple times per week at Maryland Avenue Elementary, walking up and down the main street by the school, ensuring students are safe as they walk or bike to school. Dan passes out fruit smoothies to walkers and has also, this year, provided prizes for the students, including bicycles, scooters and more. Dan loves helping and the parents, school staff and students love him.
Over time, funding has been extended to all regions of the county to create new Intergenerational SRTS programs, serving communities such as Escondido and Vista in the North, San Ysidro in the South, and Serra Mesa and downtown San Diego in the Central region.
For more information about starting Intergenerational SRTS programs as well as tips to make your neighborhoods more walkable, healthy places for young and old alike, click here.
If you are interested in becoming a SRTS volunteer or learning about other intergenerational opportunities within the County of San Diego, please contact Pam Plimpton, Intergenerational Coordinator at Aging & Independence Services: 858.495.5769 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the intergenerational page here.
Pictured above: Dan, Intergenerational SRTS Volunteer