In an effort to make walking and biking to school a customary part of everyday life, the city of Santa Monica partnered with the local school district to create the Safe Routes to School program in 2012.

One aspect of the Safe Routes to School program is Bike It! Walk It! Bus It! Week, which is a period when schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District attempt to have the highest percentage of students bike or walk to campus in a given week.

Last year, McKinley Elementary School had the highest level of participation in the district and, as a result, the school took home the Golden Sneaker Award trophy.

However, this year’s award was given to the students and staff of Grant Elementary School — some of whom were in attendance during Thursday night’s board meeting — after the Geckos had more than 87% participation in this year’s program, which school officials said was the highest percentage since the initiative began.

Shortly after Thursday’s meeting kicked off, Cory Keen, a transportation management specialist with the city of Santa Monica, spoke at the podium about the program and its goals, which include:

– Helping children arrive at school alert and ready to learn

– Helping families establish healthy habits of daily physical activity

– Encouraging families to make walking and biking to school part of everyday life

– Teaching children the skills and knowledge they need to be safe and independent, including rules of the road, physical skills and other safety behaviors

– Helping reduce auto congestion and improve traffic safety outside our schools

– Improving air quality by reducing vehicle emissions associated with school travel

Bike It! Walk It! Bus It! was founded by the Samohi Solar Alliance, which is a student club at Santa Monica High School, with the intention of spreading environmental awareness and enacting sustainability measures at the local level. Seeking to promote greener modes of transportation to school, the group launched “Bike It Day” in 2007, according to Keen. Bike to School Day was aimed at encouraging families and students to forego drive-and-drop-off culture at school in favor of hopping on a bike, which is a choice that helps reduce greenhouse emissions.

In the 12 years since its inception, Bike to School Day has evolved into what is now called Bike It! Walk It! Bus It! and program participants say the program is stronger than ever as it has extended far beyond Samohi to include other elementary, middle and high schools as well.

District spokeswoman Gail Pinkser said the district is very fortunate to have such a strong partnership with the city because the Safe Routes to School program has brought an increased focus on safety near and around local schools.

“The Bike It! Walk It! Bus It! program teaches and encourages our families to use alternative methods of transportation to and from school to reduce cars on our roads,” Pinkser said Friday, adding: “We are pleased that this initiative has inspired long term mobility changes by our families that protect our environment and enhances wellbeing. We also enjoy the enthusiasm of this healthy competition for the Golden Sneaker Award between our schools.”

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