Tustin police escorted about half of Benjamin Beswick Elementary’s 400 students to class on October 6.
It was a day to get out and enjoy fresh air, sunshine, stretch out their legs and get in steps for the annual Walk to School Day.
The school then held an assembly with a demonstration from Tustin Police Department’s motor officers. Later in the day, the officers returned to treat teacher Doni Adrian’s fifth-grade class to a party hosted by Yogurtland.
“It was amazing, we had so many kids and families,” said Principal Ashly McNamara, whose school was participating for the first time during her tenure.
About 30 officers, volunteers, and personnel from the Tustin Police Department were on hand, including Deputy Chief Bob Wright, Captain Manny Arzate and Commander Kat Thomas.
Tustin Police Services Officer (PSO) Jennifer Dlugitch said the event serves as a “bridge” to connect cops and kids “in a setting where they’re promoting safety and having fun.”
Zhanna Ismailova, a fellow PSO at the Tustin Police Department, said the event is important for kids to be able to see police as “more than just a badge.”
Now in its 25th year, the event was launched in 1997 as Walk Our Children to School Day. In 2012, the inaugural National Bike to School Day was held and continues each May. In many areas, the two modes are combined in Walk and Bike to School Days.
The event has since been expanded to 40 countries as well as all 50 states.
Each year, police, safety personnel, and volunteers from across the country teach students about safe commuting practices, such as obeying traffic signs, signals and crossing guards. The students also learn about the importance of helmets and being aware of their surroundings.
Although the Tustin Police Departments has a long tradition with Walk to School events, the COVID-19 pandemic forced events to be canceled last year, although a virtual Walk to School Day was created last year showing video from previous years.
Each year, one school among the nine schools within Tustin city limits is chosen for the police escort by the Community Resources Unit. Schools alternate annually between the North and South divisions. This year was the South’s turn and Beswick was next in line, Dlugitch said.
With the one-year hiatus, Dlugitch and Ismailova said they were unsure what to expect this year.
“When we saw all the kids gathered, we were very excited,” Dlugitch said.
On walkbiketoschool.org, the website for the National Center for Safe Routes to School, which launched the events, there were 30 official school entrants in Orange County and 2,672 nationally — down from a high of 5,612 in 2018.
Estimates on the percentage of children who walk to school vary widely. A longitudinal survey by the National Center for Safe Routes to School found that between 1969 and 2009, the percent of students in grades K through eight who walk to school fell from 48 to 13 percent. A Centers for Disease Control study in 2016 found in more than 60 percent of schools, 10 percent or less of students walked to school on an average school day.
According to research from the University of Toronto, walking to school rather than being driven has a laundry list of benefits, including higher academic performance, attention/alertness, higher degrees of pleasantness and lower levels of stress, increased metabolism, improved cardio fitness, lower weight and BMI, and higher levels of happiness, excitement, and relaxation on the journey to school.
McNamara said she hopes the event will open the doors for more events with police, saying, “The positive relationships the kids have with the cops is priceless.”