Decked out in his new Red Terrors jersey, Manny seemed antsy to start the journey on his second annual National Walk to School Day.
Manny, a black lab, pulled hard on his leash, forcing his owner, Mary Belechak, to hold on tight early Wednesday morning as they stood outside Burroughs-Molette Elementary and waited for more to arrive for the event.
“I just felt like he deserved to come,” said Belechak, a Glynn Academy school counselor.
Exactly a year ago, Belechak found Manny, a puppy at the time, alone at the end of the street when she finished the Walk to School journey last school year.
Belechak took Manny home that day, where he’s lived ever since. Wednesday, she brought him back for Walk to School Day.
Several schools in Glynn County participated in the event this year, along with about 100 other schools across Georgia.
A group of nearly 50 participants, including students, parents, teachers and community members, met at Lanier Field and trekked to Burroughs-Molette Elementary together, picking up more students and parents along the way.
The school’s principal, Mauvis Jaudon, said she was pleased with the turnout.
“It lets the people in the community know we care about their children and our children, because they are all their children,” Jaudon said. “… It’s about bringing a community together.”
The Burroughs-Molette Elementary group had just arrived at the school on Lee Street when a second group began to gather there for Glynn Academy’s walk to school.
Communities in Schools site coordinators, who organized and advertised the event, continued on with the Glynn Academy group.
“We have a large walking population, so we think it’s really important to help these kids get to school safely and show them the safe route to school,” said Earlene Dixon, a site coordinator for Communities in Schools at Burroughs-Molette Elementary.
National Walk to School Day aims to raise community awareness about student safety as well, Dixon said.
Over on St. Simons Island, a group of Oglethorpe Point Elementary School students and parents met at Bennie’s Red Barn on Frederica Road just after 7 a.m., and prepared to walk exactly one mile to school.
Weaver Orthodontics sponsored the Oglethorpe Point event, and every year the orthodontics office plays music to hype up participants and hands out flashers to students so they can walk and bike safely along the road.
“It’s just obviously to promote health and healthy living with kids,” said John Weaver, the parent of three Oglethorpe Point Elementary students and an organizer of the event. “ As a parent, it’s just a way to be involved with the school.”
Back in Brunswick, Patti Sistrunk, the project manager for Georgia Safe Routes to School, an initiative of the Georgia Department of Transportation, also walked with the Burroughs-Molette students and then continued to Glynn Academy.
“Burroughs-Molette has a lot of kids that walk normally, so to kind of change their morning routine a little bit and have them all meet was a lot of fun,” Sistrunk said. “And it’s a great way to promote safety and get the families involved too.”
National Walk to School Day promotes pedestrian safety, student health and community involvement in schools, Sistrunk said.
“It’s getting parents and communities involved, so they start recognizing some ways that they can make the walk to school safer for kids,” she said.
While walking along Altama Avenue, Dona Barrow, a Glynn Academy school counselor who participated in the event, pointed out debris left over from Hurricane Irma that took up an entire portion of sidewalk, forcing pedestrians to walk into the road.
She said she looks forward to the Walk to School Day every year, as it brings awareness to student safety.
“We like for the students to know that we recognize how far some of them have to walk every day and that their challenges don’t start when they get to school,” Barrow said.