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Walk-to-school event focuses on fitness, safety

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RONAN — Hundreds of children, law enforcement officers, volunteers and University of Montana mascot “Monte” participated in the fourth annual Ronan Walks and Rolls the morning of Oct. 3.

The event, planned and organized by volunteers working with Ronan’s Safe Routes to School program, seeks to create a fun and inclusive atmosphere for school-age children while encouraging them to walk to school.

Event organizer Jennifer Rolfsness said while the event is aimed at creating an incentive to walk to school, it is also meant to encourage children to exercise and understand the positive economic and environmental impacts that go hand in hand with using less gasoline to get to school.  

“If you think about it, the number of kids that go to school by bus and the number of kids that get dropped off at school every day is astounding,” Rolfsness said. “I thought it would be a neat thing to tie into Safe Routes to School.” 

Rolfsness also highlighted the high rates of obesity and diabetes throughout the Mission Valley, and said Ronan Walks and Rolls is a way to get kids outside. 

“Essentially, the goal is to get kids out there and, of course, give them incentive to do it because it’s a healthier choice. There’s so many different benefits to it besides the health aspect,” Rolfsness said.

The event promotes a healthier lifestyle choice, a cleaner environment, and safety. 

Wednesday, Oct. 3, marked Ronan’s participation in International Walk to School Day. With more than 40 countries participating around the world, the event originated in Denmark as a way to curtail the number of children killed by automobiles while walking to school. 

Last Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., volunteers and children began to emerge from the darkness surrounding Ronan City Park. Several tables containing event T-shirts and bags donated by the Lake County DUI Task Force and healthy snacks like fruit, yogurt, juice and breakfast bars donated by local residents, Mission Mart and St. Luke Community Clinic adorned the welcoming area near Ronan’s fire hall. 

The only light, apart from a slight glow to the east behind the Mission Mountains, came from a pile of flashing orange safety lights and reflective snap-bracelets. These were given to participating children to promote safety while walking to school.

Kicking Horse Job Corps teacher Tracy Frank brought her drivers education students to volunteer at the event because, “They need to be aware of kids walking to school, plus it’s good community involvement.”

As the crowd of laughing and smiling children grew and the sun began to shine, Griz mascot Monte made a colorful appearance with back flips and hand stands. Before long, the mob of children grew restless and began trying to grab Monte’s tail and pulling on his ears. 

Monte, apparently undaunted, grabbed two Go-Gurts from a nearby table and chased the offending parties to a chorus of laughter and smiles from watching parents. After several seconds, he was able to catch one of the kids — a little boy wearing a Monte skullcap — and swing him around several times overhead before the two posed for a picture.

Sporting an ear-to-ear grin, Ronan School Superintendent Andy Holmlund watched the proceedings from a distance. 

“This kind of stuff is the glue that keeps us all together. It’s when we put aside any personal differences or bias and focus on the most important part of our community and its future; our kids,” he said. 

Holmlund, an avowed Bobcat fan, put his personal differences and bias aside in the name of the event. The Valley Journal has obtained photographic and video evidence of Holmlund embracing Monte as the two walked the children to class.

Before long, Monte and Holmlund walked the children to class through Ronan as police officers blocked streets ahead of the procession. Even with the police presence, everyone was sure to look both ways before crossing. 

James Kendelty, a little boy who his mother Shawn dubbed a “Monte fanatic,” was all smiles as he followed closely behind Monte while the group walked to class.

“I’m surprised there are so many people,” Shawn Kendelty said. “This is awesome. We’re brand new here, and Ronan just seems to have a lot of good things for kids and communities, so it’s a nice thing to come to.”


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