Obesity, pollution: the cost of school closures

Giralang Primary school is slated for closure next year, which would end their popular walk-to-school program.

The Walking School Bus (WSB) is a fun, safe and active way for kids to walk to school. One volunteer ‘drives’ at the front of the bus, while another parent supervises at the rear. Each ‘bus’ walks along a set route. Kids join at designated ‘stops’ and walk to school as a group.

The WSB at Giralang is one of the most successful in Canberra. School Travel Surveys over the last two years show that 50-60% of Giralang students walk or ride to school. The ACT average is 38% and nationally it is common for only 10-30% of students to walk or ride.

“Giralang students and parents are committed to the walk to school,” says Toni Paterson, President of the Giralang P&C. “Less than half our students get driven to school – that’s the best in Canberra by a good margin.”

“By design, Giralang is the perfect walk-to-school suburb, with underpasses and pathways leading to the school. It is so safe, so parents are happy for their kids to walk.”

“It would be tragedy to lose all this if the school closes,” says Ms Paterson. “It’s about 3 kilometres to the next closest schools – too far for kids to walk – so we’ll end up in cars, battling traffic at another school.”

“How safe will it be for the kids with all those extra cars around the schools?”

“Governments across Australia are backing programmes which encourage kids to walk to school to combat childhood obesity,” says Ms Paterson. “It would be madness to remove the option of walking to school in a community so committed to it.”

“Forcing us to drive to other schools makes no sense environmentally, or for our health.”

“Of the more than 2200 primary students who will be displaced by the Canberra school closures, up to 1500 live within walking distance of their school. That’s a lot of kids who will no longer have the option of walking to school,” she says.

Joanne Bateman is one of 15 volunteer leaders on the Giralang bus. “The kids and parents love the Walking School Bus.” she says. “We get to meet people from the suburb, have a chat, get exercise and the kids develop good exercise habits.”

“I don’t drive,” says Ms Bateman. “So I really don’t know what we’ll do if Giralang school closes. There are also families who can’t afford to run two cars. They don’t have the luxury of choosing whether to walk or drive to school.”

WSBs operate in 16 other Canberra schools, none of which are on the government’s closure list.

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