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West Hills students take a walk

With 320 kids singing, dancing and laughing at West Hills Elementary School last Tuesday, one could not imagine they were celebrating something as mundane as — walking to school.

The children were enjoying a morning assembly with education entertainers “Buck & Elizabeth” to mark the first annual “Walk Your Child to School Day,” Oct. 2, in Kitsap County.

School officials want to save kids’ lives two ways:

• Those who live close enough to school to walk, but who don’t, need to start walking to develop lifelong habits of staying fit.

• Those who already walk to school, need to be more traffic savvy.

“I’m not only a state senator,” said Sen. Betti Sheldon to the children before the entertainment began, “I’m also a mom. I have five children and five grandchildren, so walking safely to school is very important to me.”

Bremerton Mayor Lynn Horton also spoke.

“When I was your age, I used to walk to school just like you,” she said. “What happens when winter comes and it’s dark and rainy?” she asked the children. “You start walking with your heads down, don’t you?”

The mayor told the kindergarten through fifth-grade students that they need to walk with their heads up, “So people can see you and you can watch for cars.”

Earlier that morning, the children walked to school en masse wearing brightly colored T-shirts marked “Be Safe — Be Seen.” They carried placards marked “Caution! Children Walking” and “Slow! School Zone.” The children received reflective stickers to wear on their clothing and backpacks.

West Hills was one of nine elementary schools in the county that participated in the program last week. Other schools included Armin Jahr, Naval Avenue, Crownhill and Olympic View. Central Kitsap schools included Jackson Park, Esquire Hills and Woodlands. Suquamish Elementary in North Kitsap School District also participated.

The “Walk Your Child to School Day” program was kicked off in Chicago “three or four years ago,” said Melinda Harmon, manager of community health education for the Bremerton-Kitsap County Health District. The program has spread to hundreds of communities across the United States and is also in Canada, Australia, France, Denmark and India.

“The idea is to focus on both safety and physical activity,” she said. “It’s a great community activity.”

Jackie Fojtik, youth program coordinator at the Red Cross, said the program’s long-term goals include raising awareness among drivers, as well.

“And we want to make some changes around schools,” she said. “Hedges and blackberry bushes need to be trimmed for better visibility, crosswalks need to be repainted, there needs to be better signage and lighting near schools, and sidewalks need to be installed.”

Fojtik said she’s aware of how “expensive” sidewalks are, but “We also know there’s money out there.”

Mayor Horton read a proclamation at the assembly designating Oct. 2 “Walk Your Child to School Day.” Buck & Elizabeth, an Olalla-based musical act that performs at fairs, festivals and schools in many Northwestern states, led the children in song and dance, and put on a ventriloquist act.

Washington Traffic Safety Commission Director John Moffat also attended. The program is being paid for with a WTSC grant. Bremerton Police Chief Rob Forbes was present, as were Sheriff’s Department and fire department officials.

Bremerton School District’s new Superintendent Bette Hyde participated in the assembly. West Hills Principal Flint Walpole was master of ceremonies. Other agencies participating include the Kitsap County Commission for Children and Youth, the PTA, Kitsap Safe Kids, Kitsap Community Federal Credit Union, and Bremerton Naval Hospital.

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