On Thursday, May 1st and Friday, May 2nd, 5th grade students from three Oklahoma City Public Schools will learn about walkability and active transportation through the NeighborWalk Youth Walkability Program. Developed via a partnership among the City of Oklahoma City Office of Sustainability, the Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture’s Division of Regional and City Planning, NeighborWalk engages children, teachers, parents and volunteers through a field trip and presentation to the Oklahoma City Council.

Through NeighborWalk, students will be introduced to city planning and learn about walkability, mapping, pedestrian safety and urban design. 5th graders at each of the three participating schools – Eugene Field Elementary, F.D. Moon Elementary Academy and Hayes Elementary – will learn about walkability firsthand by performing volunteer-led group walking audits to assess nearby streetscapes. Each student will be assigned a single block to survey. Students will consider elements such as the condition of sidewalks, street shade, pedestrian lighting and vehicular traffic, ultimately collating their findings to create streetscape diagrams and maps to demonstrate how the walkability of their schools and neighborhoods could be enhanced. These diagrams and maps will be part of the May 13th presentation to City Council.

It should come as no surprise that walkability is an important tool in combating the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. Enhanced safety and access to schools can contribute to students’ recommended levels of 60 or more minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. The establishment of a physically active lifestyle at a young age can help prevent the onset of illness, disease and obesity.

Moreover, physical activity has been found to have a positive relationship with academic performance, improving concentration, memory, classroom behavior and school attendance. “Evidence Based Physical Activity for School-Age Youth,” a 2005 literature review published in the Journal of Pediatrics, provides an overview of more than 850 studies and papers regarding “the effects of regular physical activity on several health and behavioral outcomes in US school-age youth.” Additionally, a student with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center‘s College of Public Health conducted a 2014 literature review, “NeighborWalks: Built Environment, Walkability, and Child Health”, that better defines the benefits of physical activity, active transportation, walkability, neighborhood development, school location and more are related to child health.

There are still opportunities to participate as volunteers are needed at all three schools on May 1st and 2nd. All volunteers must go through an Oklahoma City Public Schools background check and receive volunteer training either in-person or online.

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