MASON CITY — A $25,000 grant from the Wellmark Foundation will help Mason City implement a “walking school bus” project starting next spring.
The project will help students at Hoover and Jefferson elementary schools to walk or bicycle to school with supervision and safety — and also allow students to get some exercise along the way.
The grant was presented Wednesday during ceremonies at The Music Man Square. It is one of six grants awarded out of 80 requests made for health project funding.
The project will be developed under the auspices of the Mason City Youth Task Force.
Task Force Director Mary Schissel called the effort one that “marries so many of our focus areas” and speaks to “what the Youth Task Force is about: identifying a need and involving diverse members of the community” in finding a solution.
The project will give children the opportunity to know non-parent adults as walking school bus volunteers as well as provide healthy activity and safety to and from school.
The task force will work with schools’ parent-teacher organizations to prepare a spring kickoff of the project, as well as Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health and Roosevelt and Harding schools.
The award follows a study conducted by the city of Mason City in 2009 that tracked student travel to and from schools, as part of the Safe Routes to School planning grant.
The study found almost 31 percent of Hoover students and almost 10 percent of students at Jefferson walked to school. Reasons for not walking included fear of traffic, bullying and weather.
A 2008 Iowa Youth Survey showed that 23 percent of eighth-graders do not get at least 60 minutes of physical exercise three or more days a week. That increases to 45 percent by the 11th grade. The project will help increase the number of students walking and biking to school to help establish healthy exercise habits early in life, according to local school, city and health officials.
Wellmark Foundation Director Matt McGarvey applauded the project, adding that programs that promote physical activity are important.
He added that Wellmark will also be avidly observing how this project works.
“We (at Wellmark) are learning, too,” he said, adding that the project will provide valuable information in the future for other communities.
Mayor Eric Bookmeyer offered his thanks, adding the city “appreciates the partnership and engagement with Wellmark.”
Mason City Superintendent of Schools Anita Micich said there was an initiative to “make Iowa the healthiest state in the union ... and I’m all for that,” adding the project was a good example of how partnerships can result in what’s good for students.
The task force is a community coalition made up of adult and youth volunteers from Mason City.