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Students Encouraged to "Hoof" it to School Wednesday

Schools are participating in Walk to School Day to promote safety around schools and healthy habits.

It's not uncommon to see loads of children in Oak Park and River Forest getting to school on foot.

This year, as in the past, Elementary Districts 90 and 97 are hoping that all students will use this old-time method of transportation Wednesday to get to promote both health and safety.

It's Walk to School Day, which since 1997 has encouraged alternate modes of transportation - namely walking - to make routes safer, get more youngsters into the habit of walking and clean up the air around schools.

Districts see this effort as part of a serious commitment to the health and wellness of its students and that those are as important as the social, emotional and academic growth of their students, officials said.

All of District 97 schools will be participating. In a community, with close proximity to schools and one that emphasizes health and wellness, the day is also a way to plant in youngsters' minds the idea of safe walking, District 97 spokesman Chris Jasculca said.

"We remind them that they should be crossing with the light, at a crosswalk and at an intersection," he said. "We emphasize this at the start of the year and after winter break to promote and get them to practice safety."

It's an easy thing to do because the district already has safe walking routes - designated by arrows and the names of the schools - for all of its buildings, Jasculca said.That effort was completed by the village itself, he added.

Safe walk route maps for all buildings are on the District 97 website. Crossing guards are also on hand to keep youngsters - and the public at large - safe while they cross streets.

"Those designated routes remind families that these are a safe way to get to and from school," he said.

River Forest's schools also use the day to the idea of having parents walk with their children to school rather than drive them. In addition to making the day one that families can share Walk to School Day promotes the value of cleaning the air around school, said Tari Marshall, the district's communications coordinator.

"This is a community that is supportive of sustainable practices, and walking to school, as opposed to being driven a few blocks, is a big part of that," she said.

Youngsters and parents alike are aware of the designated crosswalks and the intersections where crossing guards patiently keep youngsters safe. It's particulary important as all of the schools are located north of Lake Street, a heavily traveled thoroughfare around town.

In addition, officials say the day is an important reminder to follow safety laws around schools and particularly at school drop-off zones.

Talking and texting on cell phones is banned around school zones. And even with police officers there, the district gets reports of parents not observing the laws, said Marshall, who has heard of such incidents.

Forest Park Elementary District 91 is not planning to participate, officials said.

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