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Hinsdale - Illinois: Walk This Way

Cop and Kid PhotoFive years ago, few kids in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale walked to school. A local nurse’s crusade for sidewalks paved the way for change.

Most kids live within a mile of school, yet few were walking or biking.
“Way too many parents were driving their kids to school,” says Maryann Romanelli, a nurse and resident of Hinsdale, Illinois. “[Hinsdale] just doesn't have any reasons why people shouldn't be walking, except for lack of sidewalks. ”

She rallied the community to participate in International Walk to School Day. To bring visibility to the need for safe routes and sidewalks, Romanelli spearheaded a district-wide Walk to School Day in 2000. She lobbied both the village and school boards to participate. “I worked for three months making signs, getting fliers, finding information, organizing the schools,” she says. “They said if I could pull it off, they would come.”

“There was barely a car out there. It was such a different scene, it was amazing to everybody,” says Romanelli of Hinsdale’s first Walk to School Day. The streets were filled with students and families, police and firefighters, teachers and administrators, and local, state and federal political leaders. “You have to work together,” she says. “This is the only way we are going to get change.”

Now, more than seven miles of new sidewalk are in the works. “It came to the forefront because of the walk,” says Romanelli. “It’s why Walk to School Day is so effective—people are actually out there.” The first few miles of sidewalks have bordered schools, connecting them to parks, neighborhoods and other activity centers.

Schools are incorporating walking into curriculum. At Oak Elementary School, students are walking at recess, calculating their mileage and learning about the benefits of exercise and healthy eating. “They took the idea of Walk to School Day and had the kids figure out mileage and steps,” says Romanelli of the school’s educators. “They have made this fun, and incorporated walking into every subject.”

“More kids are walking and biking than ever,”
says Romanelli. “Everything was kind of adversarial at first. It’s such a nice relationship now with the people in the village, with the [school] board, with the police—it’s changed so much in so many positive ways.”

Maryann Romanelli is event coordinator for District 181’s Walk to School Day, and a community advocate who is sharing Hinsdale’s strategies with leaders nationwide. For more information, contact her at

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Five years ago after garnering the support from the school district, local government, and school board members, a concerned parent launched a campaign to bring attention to the need for sidewalks ...

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