Loss of program harmful to children
So the Nova Scotia government’s Department of Health and Wellness has cut 100 per cent of funding to the Ecology Action Centre’s school travel planning program. That puts my wife out of a job that we both feel passionate about.
Unemployment aside, I am concerned about the effect of this loss on the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. The school travel planning program helped kids to safely walk, bike, skate, scoot and move themselves around the neighbourhood in such a way that teaches them to find fun and exercise in everyday activities.
Without it, kids are learning to burn fossil fuels rather than calories to get from point A to point B. There are kids in my neighbourhood who live a block from the school and get driven. This trend teaches a sedentary lifestyle. As the years roll on this affects their health and becomes increasingly difficult to change.
The program that the government is putting a stop to troubleshoots policy, infrastructure and facilitates opportunities for kids to use their bodies and stay healthy.
It also teaches the importance and use of safety protocols and equipment. One such program is the walking school bus. I walk with my daughter to and from school often. She loves it. Now she wants to walk to school on her own. I am apprehensive. After previous funding cuts shut down two-thirds of the schools in our neighbourhood, the walk to school is farther than ever. Further funding cuts removed all but one crossing guard.
The walking school bus program is a great way to deal with the longer walk and fewer crossing guards. This is how it works: adult chaperones and kids meet at a designated spot. The group heads for school, picking up more kids as they go. The kids have fun, get exercise and arrive on time under adult supervision.
The last official walking school bus recently happened and what occurred illustrates some of the reasons why the program is useful. The group encountered a detour from the usual route due to sidewalk and road construction. The group took the next alternate route avoiding streets with no sidewalks.
One child was travelling by wheelchair. In various places, including a busy intersection now with no crossing guard and dan- gerous due to visibility, he found that the curbs had no ramps. The impassibility of the sidewalk necessitated that he use the road. Because he was with the walking school bus these issues were manageable.
The next step for the school travel planning committee would be to work with municipal partners to make that route wheelchair accessible and address visibility at that corner. That probably won’t happen now.
It would be great if the program wasn’t needed, if parents were able to walk with their kids and if the schools and city officials would deal with the safety and accessibility of school routes.
The school travel planning initiative has been working with 24 schools across the province, eight of which are Cape Breton schools. It would be great if people would organize walking school buses and provide reports on what needs to be changed to those who can make it happen. Or if people organized events to teach kids how to bike and skateboard safely. But there isn’t much of that without the school travel planning program. That’s why the program exists. Excuse me — used to exist. Chris Johnstone-Laurette