In late November, active and sustainable school travel (ASST) partners in Hamilton came together to launch a new initiative designed to get more parents involved in local ASST projects.

The event, which was attended by two dozen parents, public health staff and school board officials, marked the first step in a two-year process to develop, test, implement and evaluate a new parent and caregiver engagement strategy. Increasing parental commitment and leadership is seen as essential to the future sustainability, expansion and impact of ASST initiatives across the city.

Attendees learned about past and current local efforts to increase walking and cycling to school, met fellow champions, and began identifying and prioritizing action items.

Su Heenan attended the launch and is one of ten parent members of a core working group created to help guide strategy development.

“The energy in the room that evening was exhilarating! When you bring a group of people together who care about the health and well-being of not just their own families, but their neighbours, school communities, city and society as a whole, it’s contagious,” she says. “We had so many creative minds effectively working together after having only just met. I left knowing we are going to be able to make this happen, we are truly capable of making a difference.”

Su’s involvement is motivated by her daughter Gwendolyn, a seasoned active school traveller in Grade 2 at Regina Mundi Catholic Elementary School.

“Gwendolyn has been requesting we walk the 1km journey to and from school since she was 3. Even if she is given the opportunity for a ride, she still chooses to walk. This is the norm for her, in every kind of weather.”

And she is inspiring others. Parents on their street say their kids are so excited to walk to school with Su and her daughter that they get ready for school faster. Gwendolyn enjoys teaching them road safety, and Su is rewarded when she hears them say they have never walked in the rain before and how much fun it is to walk to school.

“With more information for parents, and by creating opportunities for everyone to actively participate and listen to new ideas, we can build a community that can come together to help get more kids walking and biking to school,” she adds.

Development and implementation of the parent engagement strategy is a major component of Hamilton Active and Sustainable School Travel, an OAST-funded project. Led by the City of Hamilton it will also expand School Travel Planning and develop new school site plan guidelines for the municipality and school boards.

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