February 2003

Grant Results

SUMMARY

In May 2002, White Mountain Research Associates in Plainsboro, N.J., produced a preliminary evaluation report on the "Walk to School Day Program," a national initiative supporting a day for children to walk to school with parents and community leaders.

Key Findings
White Mountain reported the following findings and recommendations to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF):

  • Walk to School Day is not a one-day event. Communities are using it as an opportunity to promote related issues including environmental change, physical activity and safety.
  • Communities can launch Walk to School Day with little or no funding.
  • Although the initiative appears to be expanding significantly, national sponsors and local coordinators say that their greatest challenges are the lack of both resources and a single entity that could serve as a coordinator and clearinghouse at the national level.
  • Community-based coordination tends to be preferable to school-based efforts.
  • A central agency should serve as a coordinator of the program, providing communication and marketing at both national and local levels.
  • A Web site should be developed as a clearinghouse for materials, information and resources.
  • Communities should integrate health and safety issues to form a stronger basis for Walk to School Day.

Funding
RWJF provided $42,229 from November 2001 to May 2002 to support the project.

 See Grant Detail & Contact Information
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THE PROBLEM

In 1996, the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health addressed the nationwide epidemic of physical inactivity among adults and children and recommended that schools and communities coordinate approaches to the problem, including policy-related changes and alterations to the physical environment.

In response, the following year the Partnership for a Walkable America, an alliance of public and private organizations and individuals, sponsored the first Walk to School Day in Chicago. Since that time, Walk to School Day has taken place each year in October in virtually every state, with over 300,000 participants from 170 cities. In 2000 it began as an international event, and in 2001 attracted three million walkers from 21 countries.

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THE PROJECT

White Mountain Research Associates produced a 35-page report, Understanding Environmental and Policy Approaches to Community-Level Behavior Change: Feasibility Study for an Assessment of the "Walk to School Day" Program. It focuses on four qualitative areas:

  1. quality of events
  2. penetration and adaptation by the community
  3. effectiveness
  4. sustainability.

Methodology

Project staff members conducted telephone interviews with nine key stakeholders at the event-sponsor level and nine at the community level. Interviews with sponsors included stakeholders at the California Health Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and RWJF's Active Living by Design National Program Office. (See Appendix 1 for a complete list.) Community interviewees included event organizers, school representatives, parents and volunteers.

Researchers used the electronic registration system maintained by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center at the University of North Carolina to select communities in which to conduct interviews, choosing from a variety of communities — rural and urban, large and small, experienced and new to the program. (See Appendix 2 for communities selected.)

The study authors report two potential limitations of the research: the sample of national sponsors and communities may not have adequately reflected all involved in the event, and communities may not yet have had sufficient time to document successes.

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FINDINGS

Some of the significant findings in the feasibility study are:

  • Walk to School Day is not a one-day event. Communities are using it as an opportunity to promote related issues including environmental change, physical activity and safety. The flexibility of agenda setting and implementation — allowing communities to meet their own needs — appears to contribute to the overall success of the initiative.
  • Communities can launch Walk to School Day with little or no funding; what seems to matter more is having a local "champion" willing to engage key individuals throughout the community.
  • Although the initiative appears to be expanding significantly, national sponsors and local coordinators say that their greatest challenges are the lack of both resources and a single entity that could serve as a coordinator and clearinghouse at the national level. Indeed, sustainability seems to be more likely if an agency, which can commit someone at least part-time, organizes the effort.
  • Community-based coordination tends to be preferable to school-based efforts; schools have few resources and staff has little time for outside programs.

Recommendations

Recommendations include the following:

  • A central agency should serve as a coordinator of the program, providing communication and marketing at both national and local levels.
  • A Web site should be developed as a clearinghouse for materials, information and resources for policy and environmental changes that sites can implement.
  • Communities should integrate health and safety issues to form a stronger basis for Walk to School Day; the strategy of broader partnerships and expertise is more successful in assuring sustainability of the program.

The report also recommended pursuing a larger scale evaluation, as well as a two- to three-day conference that would facilitate a dialogue among national and state sponsors involved in efforts that promote walking and environmental change.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Assessment of the National Walk Our Children to School Day Program

Grantee

White Mountain Research Associates (Plainsboro,  NJ)

  • Amount: $ 42,229
    Dates: November 2001 to May 2002
    ID#:  043521

Contact

Seth L. Emont, Ph.D.
(609) 275-5944
sethemont@comcast.net

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APPENDICES


Appendix 1

(Current as of the time of the grant; provided by the grantee organization; not verified by RWJF.)

Key Event Sponsors Interviewed for the Evaluation Report

Active Living by Design National Program Office
Chapel Hill, N.C.

America WALKS
Portland, Ore.

America's Walking
Public Broadcasting Service
Alexandria, Va.

California Health Department
Division of Physical Activity and Health Initiatives
Sacramento, Calif.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity
Atlanta, Ga.

Institute of Transportation Engineers
Washington, D.C.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center at the Highway Safety Research Center
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Shape Up America!
Washington, D.C.

Washington Traffic Safety Commission
Olympia, Wash.


Appendix 2

(Current as of the time of the grant; provided by the grantee organization; not verified by RWJF.)

Communities Included in Research in the Report

Understanding Environmental and Policy Approaches to Community-Level Behavior Change: Feasibility Study for an Assessment of the "Walk to School Day" Program

  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Oakland, Calif.
  • Myrtle Beach, S.C.
  • Gilbert, S.C.
  • Gulf-Breeze, Fla.
  • East Silver Springs, Md.
  • Crocker, Mo.
  • Zuni, N.M.
  • Canton, Ohio

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Reports

Emont S and Emont N. Understanding Environmental and Policy Approaches to Community-Level Behavior Change: Feasibility Study for an Assessment of the "Walk to School Day" Program. Plainsboro, N.J.: White Mountain Research Associates, 2002.

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Report prepared by: Mary B. Geisz
Reviewed by: Janet Spencer King
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Karen K. Gerlach

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