Elementary school students from Vancouver are competing in an unlikely global competition this month by simply walking to school.
Two elementary schools in Vancouver are going head to head with students in London and Shanghai, chosen for their recent Olympic hosting affiliation, in the Beat the Street International Walk to School competition.
Students at Vancouver's Laura Secord and Lord Kitchener elementary schools will compete to see who can log the most kilometres throughout October on their walk to and from school.
The students will use high-tech smartcards or key fobs that they swipe at "beat boxes" or checkpoints, to register their distance travelled along specific routes.
By walking or biking and "checking in," the kids build points for their school, and the school with the most points wins.
The distance is also automatically recorded on the competition website (www.beatthestreet.me), so students can keep track of their standing in the competition.
"The [students] are pretty enthusiastic," says Lord Kitchener principal Rosemary Love.
"Just hearing kids talking about it and talking about how they're going to meet up after school so they can walk home together—there's really a buzz about being able to swipe their fobs at the beat boxes, they're really pumped up about that."
The competition, which coincides with International Walk to School month, was started by British doctor William Bird and organized through his company Intelligent Health in response to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity in the U.K. and around the world.
It also also aims to help reduce traffic congestion, improve overall health, and get students to interact with their counterparts in other countries.
After Bird's success with the program in the U.K., Beat the Street expanded to cities around the world.
"These children can show everyone how it's done. Walking is the cheapest and most effective option to add more exercise into your daily life. We hope to extend the scheme next year to encourage walking amongst adults as well," Bird said in a recent press release.
Besides the physical and environmental benefits, Laura Secord students are also using the competition to raise money for charity. Students are campaigning for sponsors who can show their support by donating to the BC Children's Hospital Foundation.
A celebrity appearance by Olympic athlete Andrew Byrnes at the school also helped inspire the students. Byrnes, a gold medal-winning rower from Toronto, was at the school last week passing around the silver medal he won in London in the men's eights.
Love says the challenge is motivating the students to develop better exercise habits through "good, friendly competition."
She thinks the month-long timeframe is ideal, as it allows the students time to get into the new routine and hopefully continue to walk after the challenge is over.
"I'm sure there will be kids who continue to walk, more than did before. … I'm hoping that there will be less cars dropping off children."
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