Forestville Road Elementary School principal Jessie Hafner had an unusual question for her second- and third-graders assembled in the multipurpose room the morning of Wednesday, May 4.
Hafner told the students they were going to walk to California.
“Do you think you can do that?” she asked.
“Yes!” came the enthusiastic reply from the students.
But when she told them it would be more than 2,000 miles, doubtful murmurs swept through the room.
With each student walking about four miles around the soccer field, though, it would add up to the 2,667 miles it would take to get to California.
Mayor James Roberson came out to the school to offer words of encouragement and get the students started on their mission.
When he was growing up in Wilson, Roberson said, there were plenty of good sidewalks, and most of the students used to walk to school. The time spent walking allowed them to develop friendships and look after one another.
“That is priceless,” Roberson said.
The Forestville Road project grew out of the efforts of Robyn Dezern, the school’s active routes to school safety coordinator, and began with encouraging students who live close by to walk to school.
Dezern and her son, Troy Sideikas, a fourth-grader at Forestville Road, live in the Beaverdam neighborhood, close enough to walk to school, but she wanted to reach out to all students, including the ones who ride the bus.
“We thought if we couldn’t get all the students to walk to school, we would get them to walk at school,” Dezern said.
Dezern also scheduled the walkathon on National Bike to School Day to tie into that fitness effort.
“I think this is a wonderful initiative that is going on,” Roberson told the students gathered in the multipurpose room, and then he led them out to the soccer field at the joint-use Knightdale Recreation Center on the school’s campus.
He chatted with the kids and fist-bumped with them as they made their laps around the field.
Before the walking began, Hafner stressed the connection between physical fitness and achievement in school work.
“Academics is important,” she said “but having a healthy body is very important to academic success.”
Dezern said she expected the walkathon to become an annual event at the school.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826