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Sunset park students walking to school togetherAt the corner of Vassar and Stanford on the South Side, the ideal Wednesday morning air was filled with the happy musings of little ones eager for the journey north to start.

“I live on that busy street back there, so I have to get a ride every morning,” one little boy offered.

“Not me,” countered his friend. “I used to walk about a half-mile but I found a short cut, so now it’s just like a quarter mile. I like it because I get some exercise. So as long as the weather is nice, I walk.”

As each new tyke arrived, he or she was greeted by John Hull, who like the children, was clearly energized by the brisk early fall weather.

“Did you check in with Miss Taravella?,” Mr. Hull asked each new arriving child. “Be sure to do that so we can get started.”

Although Wednesday might have appeared to be a typical school day, for many of the Yearlings of Sunset Park Elementary, the start to that day was a bit out of the norm.

For at least a decade, Sunset Park has participated in National Walk to School Day. Every year on October 6, students across the nation take advantage of a supervised trek to school, enjoying the health and environmental benefits that come with walking or bicycling to school.

At the corners of Vassar and Stanford, Baylor and Yale, Rutgers and Princeton, and Amherst and Dartmouth, Principal Hull, second-grade teacher Candice Taravella and other Sunset Park educators and administrators were on hand to greet the Yearlings, some of whom arrived by vehicle and others arrived on foot as they do every morning.

“It’s a lot of fun and a good time to get out in the fresh air,” said Principal Hull. “And we’re hoping that with all the construction that will be happening with our new school, this might show folks that there’s different ways to get your kids to school beside just dropping them off at the doorstep.

“Because our traffic patterns are going to be awfully interesting once we begin building the new school.”

Like many institutions in District 60, Sunset Park was built as a “neighborhood school” to serve the community in which it was built.

“As a neighborhood school, folks were supposed to walk to Sunset Park,” Principal Hull continued. “But things have changed, obviously, and with so much of our population taking advantage of school choice, a lot who attend our school don’t necessarily live in the area. Sunset park students walking to school together

“But maybe we can create a new pattern of how we get to school. These corners are easy to get to and a lot more convenient for parents. So maybe they can see that it’s a lot easier to drop their kids off at these different corners, and they can get to school just fine and get some exercise at the same time.”

“We don’t see kids walking to school much anymore,” added Miss Taravella. “So this is a fun time for kids to get together and walk to school with their teachers and classmates. It’s a great way to enjoy the fresh air.”

Jack, the father of two Yearlings, gave each a kiss as they joined the joyful band of Yearlings anxious for the journey to begin.

“I’m fine with them walking to school,” he said. “It looks like it’s coming along quite nicely here. My kids don’t usually walk to school but they wanted to do it, so we left the house early.”

For the 150 or so Yearlings who converged on the corner of Vassar and Stanford, once the procession towards Sunset Park began, the undertaking took on the feel of a sidewalk parade.

“I usually drive to school,” one little boy said, obviously in jest, as he traveled down the sidewalk, rolling backpack in tow.

“You’re not old enough to drive,” countered his amused colleague.

“Well, if I was, I’d drive a mini-bike,” came the retort.

Another youngster carried a large cup of coffee as he stepped toward Sunset Park.

“My Mom got this for me at Starbuck’s,” he offered. “I need it to stay awake.”

In addition to the Sunset Park staff, the traveling entourage was escorted along the length of Vassar by a Pueblo police officer.

Sunset park students walking to school togetherThe flashing lights of the cruiser added even more excitement to the multi-block morning excursion.

“How awesome is that?,” a Sunset Park teacher announced. “We get a police escort to school!”

For little Elizabeth, the start to the school day Wednesday was a unique one.

“I never walk to school,” she said. “But it’s a nice morning and I get to exercise, and it’s a lot of fun to walk with my friends, because they make me feel safe.”

In addition to sharing in the fun and fresh air, the Yearlings who walked to school Wednesday were entered into a drawing for some nifty prizes.