With a waning moon lighting up Mt. Redoubt with a pink alpenglow hundreds of students with their parent’s pets and younger siblings gathered at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Soldotna. It was a jump start on the national Walk to School Day that is scheduled for Oct. 7 when nearly 4,000 events have been planned across America.
“We’re in Alaska where the days get shorter and colder sooner so we’re generally first,” said Sharon Hale, of Redoubt Elementary school who has coordinated the annual walk since its inception. “This year all three schools, Redoubt Elementary, Soldotna Elementary and Soldotna Montessori all participated and gathered at the Catholic Church for a safety briefing and instructions. It was our best turnout ever I believe,” said Hale. Soldotna Elementary Principal Terry Diamond has been walking with her students every year and explained the purpose of the event.
“It’s to have parents come out and walk with their kids to school while discussing how important safety is on our dark winter nights to be sure to wear reflective gear so they can be easily seen when walking on the streets,” she said.
Redoubt Elementary Principal Bill Withrow was also on hand to lead his kids in the walk to school.
“Safety is the reason! We emphasize safety daily, every morning on the announcements that being respectful, responsible and safe whether coming to school or leaving, taking the necessary safety precautions and wearing helmets and reflective gear so they get to and from home safely is a daily lesson for all of us,” said Withrow. “And walking to school is a lot of fun. Working with Jane Fellman of Safekids of Alaska at CPH is great because she always supports this event and not only gives the kids safety gear, but teaches them how to use it properly saves lives, and she is amazing at it,” said Diamond.
Withrow advised motorists that drive during the changing seasons and dark mornings that black ice can catch anyone unaware, even when it is least expected.
“Understand that there are a lot of kids out there, some of them not so large and not easy to see so the best thing is to go slower nearing a school zone, don’t hurry to work and stay off the cell phones (when) approaching a school zone area. The kids have one mission — to get to school and (they) may not always be paying attention, so it’s part of our responsibility as adults to be on the lookout for all those young kids,” he said.
Underscoring the important of the event and its messages of safety, were members of the Soldotna Police Department and Central Emergency Services who accompanied the march to school with a ladder truck and personnel.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent of Schools Sean Dusek also accompanied the families on their walk to school and was happily greeted by the many students and parents participating.
Temperatures were at a brisk, 25 degrees Fahrenheit that morning, which greeted more than 250 parents, students, staff, district administration, and public officials who took to the streets of Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday.
With gold leaves falling, frost on the ground, and less and less visible light youth still walk or bike to school, and wait at bus stops, often on busy roads.
“Safety. It’s about teaching our kids how to safely navigate their way safely when they are using the local streets,” he said. “For the parents, it’s about reinforcing to them that we share their concerns for their children’s safety as they walk or ride to and from school, and demonstrate to them, and the children, that we’re in partnership with them to teach kids how to be safe. Finally, this event is also about raising awareness in the local community about the importance to watch out for our kids when they are driving,” he said. With the new roundabouts, Fellman told the kids to make sure when “att an intersection, stop to look left, right, and then left again before stepping from the curb make sure vehicles see you or have stopped completely. Make eye contact with drivers and receive a nod or hand wave before crossing,” said Fellman. For more information or to receive free reflective tape, backpack or a reflective zipper pull tab for a child’s jacket contact Jane Fellman at 907-714-4539, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.