- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

KEENE, N.H. (AP) - Several New Hampshire communities are taking a closer look at a nationwide program that encourages children to bike or walk to school.

The Southwest Regional Planning Commission and other partners are examining the impact of the National Safe Routes to School program, which has been implemented in Keene and Marlborough and is being developed in Hinsdale. The commission, along with the Healthy Monadnock organization and Antioch University New England, is surveying students and has created an index measuring 14 levels of school participation.

Initial results from one Keene elementary school show that the percentage of students who walked to school increased from 11 percent to 26 percent in the five years since the program started. During that time, the percentage of students who rode to school in a family vehicle decreased from 55 percent to 37 percent. Officials say they want to ensure school officials can make informed decisions about the program.

“This information suggests that Symonds School’s efforts have been successful, and as a result, the school is willing to invest its time and resources into sustaining the program in the future,” said Mari Brunner, planner for the Southwest Region Planning Commission. “Evaluation is an important component of any Safe Routes to Schools program.”

Studies have shown that children who get more exercise are physically and mentally healthier and arrive at school more eager to learn and with reduced levels of stress.

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