"It's a privilege for us to come to a great park and walk to our school in a town like Morris," Immaculate Conception School Principal Kim DesLauriers said Wednesday just before he and his students set off for their walk to school together.
Oct. 3 has been proclaimed Walk to School Day in Grundy County, the same day as International Walk to School Day.
Each year, the Grundy County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Grundy County Environmental Resource Conservation Office and the Grundy County Farm Bureau host a walking event at a grade school in the county. Last year, the walk was held at Gardner Grade School in Gardner.
This year, the county representatives walked to Immaculate Conception School in Morris after meeting at Chapin Park, about half of a mile away.
"Walking and exercising is so important," State Rep. Pam Roth told the ICS students at Chapin Park. "It keeps you trim and fit. It's the key to being healthy."
All grades were invited to participate in the walk, DesLauriers said. Parents, teachers and county representatives participated, as well.
"I think it's great," DesLauriers said. "I used to walk to school when I was a kid."
DesLauriers still rides his bicycle, roller blades and walks around town for exercise.
Natalie Mahler, who was representing the Soil and Water Conservation District, commended the ICS community for hosting walking events each year since the Walk to School Day events began six years ago, even though the official events were not held at their school.
DesLauriers said the school hosts similar functions for Earth Day, too.
"It's good to walk to school because it helps the environment and gives you exercise," said ICS eighth-grader Aurora Whitmarsh.
Aurora usually walks to school anyway, so of course she participated Wednesday. She said it was fun getting to walk with her friends.
Aurora's peer Ryan Friend, another eighth-grader, does not normally walk to school, but she did Wednesday. She said she had fun, too.
Once they arrived at the school, the students were served muffins, fruit and juice for breakfast. They gathered in the school's gym to listen to a few short speakers and to play some games.
Mahler told the students that not only is walking good for their health and the environment, but it is a safer way to get to school, too. She explained because school zones are so busy with traffic before and after school, having less vehicles coming to and from the school at those times makes it less hectic.
Also, if students walk together, they can be seen more easily by drivers.
John Davis, youth development educator for the University of Illinois Extension Grundy County office, directed some of the students in the gym in playing some fun, but heart-pumping games and activities. Some students had to bunny hop, others had to wiggle around while holding hands with a classmate to move a Hoola Hoop around a circle and two grades competed in a tug-of-war match.
"Anytime you get your heart rate up, it's good for your body," Davis said. "And it's good for you as a student because it gets your blood flowing."
Third-grader Jeffrey Bzdill said he had a lot of fun getting to start his school day walking with friends, eating breakfast together and then playing games.