By Elsie Walker
Every day, children are seen walking to and from Netcong Elementary School on College Road.
A survey of the school, which houses grades K – eight, shows that about 33 percent of students walk to school daily and about 39 percent walk home from school daily. However, one day in October, a familiar face made the walk to school special: Mayor Joe Nametko.
Nametko was on hand to help the children mark International Walk to School Day. The Netcong event was sponsored by the Walk & Roll Club, headed by the Netcong PTA. The club promotes fitness in children through monthly special events. The club’s coordinator is Leigh Ann Von Hagen of Netcong who noted that more than 100 children participate in Walk & Roll days. A child receives a back pack charm for each event in which he or she participates.
“The Netcong Walk & Roll Club encourages students and parents to walk, roll or bike to and from school, instead of driving, for safer streets, for less pollution and for better health,” said Von Hagen. “Students in Netcong know that a lifetime of being active begins on the way to school. By choosing to walk or bike and being physically active, students arrive awake and ready to learn which leads to better test scores and starts their day the healthy way.”
Von Hagen also noted the health benefits of walking at a time when across the country, children are less active than in previous generations.
She said, “23 percent of children get no free time physical activity at all. The prevalence of obesity is so great that today’s generation of children may be the first in over 200 years to live less healthy and have a shorter lifespan than their parents.” She noted that in walking one mile to school each day, a child will have met 2/3 of the daily 60 minutes of exercise recommended for children to stay healthy.
International Walk to School Day, held every October, focuses on health and the various other benefits of walking. According to the International Walk to School website, https://www.iwalktoschool.org, the event brings together members of communities worldwide. Depending on the area, different benefits may be highlighted including improving one’s health, improving the environment (walking does not pollute like cars do), emphasizing the need to have safe routes for kids to walk and creating a sense of community among walkers.
In Netcong, not all of the children walked; some rode bikes. Regardless of the mode they used to get to school, they reaped the benefits of the day. One of those benefits was that the children got to walk with Nametko, who enjoyed sharing the event with them. As a child, he walked to school. Growing up in Wharton, Nametko lived right next door to the K-four school and a block away from the five through eight school.
“It meant a lot to me to walk along with the group of students and their parents,” said Nametko. “We started from the train station and made our way past two crossing guards who made the walk very safe. Along the way, all of the students chatted with each other rather than using their phones. Having special walk days throughout the year provide the opportunity for new students to join the walking team while giving their parents the comfort they are not walking by themselves.”
Parents were also part of the International Walk to School Day group and discussed the town and the school with the mayor as they walked. Looking ahead, the Walk & Roll Club’s next event will focus on the upcoming holiday and how one can get in shape before and after feasting.
“The Netcong Walk and Roll Turkey Trot event is a way to get ready for Thanksgiving. As families get ready for a day of family, fun and food, the Turkey Trot is a reminder that 15 minutes of walking at a moderate pace uses about 100 calories. If you walked 15 minutes each way, to and from school every day for a week, you would use an extra 1,000 calories. Something to be thankful for,” said Von Hagen.