- Associated Press - Thursday, April 3, 2014

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - Dozens of children at a Sioux City elementary didn’t let chilly weather stop the seasonal Walking School Bus program.

The Sioux City Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1otWcpz ) 29 students participated Tuesday in Irving Elementary School’s first day of the program, which takes place each school day during the spring and fall. The children bundled up and walked to school, accompanied by adult volunteers.

The Walking School Bus is part of the Sioux City Community School District’s effort to become certified as a Blue Zone, a state and private initiative that encourages healthy living.

“It gets them moving in the morning and also connecting with teachers and people in the community,” said Kylie McCarthy, community initiative organizer for the Blue Zones Project.

Irving is the only Sioux City school with a daily Walking School bus, but others have adopted less frequent programs.

The Irving program is part of a national effort organized by the federally funded National Center for Safe Routes to School to enable children to walk and bicycle to school.

Nancy Pullen-Seufert, the center’s associate director, said children enjoy the exercise and learn safe-walking behavior. And the early-morning exercise helps them learn once they arrive at school.

“We hear from educators about the benefits they see in the classroom,” she said. “Children are able to focus better after walking to school.”

Supporters said participating in such efforts at a young age can help children develop lifetime fitness habits as well as strengthen social network.

Those social benefits seemed most important to 11-year-old Cynthia Perez, a fifth grader at Irving.

“I like it because I get to walk and talk with my friends,” she said.

The Rev. Del Olivier, of Augustana Lutheran Church, is a regular volunteer with the program.

“I love talking to the kids,” said Olivier. “I think it’s a wonderful program. It’s a great way to get the kids walking safely.”

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Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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