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Good things do come out of bad economic times

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POSTED September 8, 2010 2:29 a.m.
Want an upside to the current state budget crisis?

Take a look around schools in Manteca and Lathrop. You will notice a lot more kids walking.

That is a good thing.
And it wouldn’t have happened if Manteca Unified wasn’t forced to cut back expenses due to shrinking state dollars.

Manteca Unified’s rule is any elementary student who lives more than 1.5 miles or a high school student who resides 2.5 miles from a campus -  as the crow flies - gets bused. Everyone else unless they are handicapped walks, bicycles, or is driven to school by parents or other arrangements.

There were a few places where this is unsafe. One  example are students from the Airport Way neighborhoods south of the Highway 120 Bypass trying to reach Veritas School who have the only option to walk along-side fast-moving traffic on Woodward Avenue that lacks sidewalks and shoulders. The school district eventually came up with a workable solution.

What wasn’t reasonable were the old busing standards.  They were essentially a half mile for elementary and 1.5 miles for high school.

And we wonder why kids are inactive and childhood obesity is on the upswing.

There were those who justified the shorter distance as saying it was unsafe for children to walk that far, that there were people they needed to be protected from, and  traffic is too dangerous.

With all due respect, some of the most dangerous drivers around campuses in the morning and afternoon are parents either dropping off or picking up their kids.

As for the concerns over the unthinkable happening to kids going to and from school, it is a concern but certainly not any bigger than it was 30 or even 40 years ago. Criminal statistics do not justify any heightened level of parental concerns about allowing a third grader to walk to and from school. Of course being fed a steady diet in the media of various incidents that often happen thousands of miles away doesn’t help calm nerves.

But it is perhaps the first concern that kids are simply unsafe to be trusted to walk on their own is a bit sad.

There was a time in this country not too long ago that youngsters 12 and under learned how to operate tractors and other things under the watchful eye of their working parents. The agrarian-based society gave Americans a different perspective.

And city kids had the pleasure of stomping through leaves and such.

Now - thanks to what could be called “over” parenting - we “protect” kids from such pleasures while having no qualms about planting them in front of video games and TV for hours on end.

It is also ironic that we teach kids to respect the environment but then the schools bus kids short distances instead of walking which clearly doesn’t go hand-in-glove with green education initiatives.

The Great Recession has forced all of us - except for perhaps mega-corporations as well as the State of California and federal governments - to rethink how we do things.

When money does come back it can’t for obvious reasons return us to the days of yesteryear - 1999 to 2006 - where real value was igrnored in favor of short-term gains whether it was buying and selling corporations for paper profits, flipping homes, or making the concept of delayed gratification seem quaint and old-fashioned.

With a little luck we will learn the same lessons that, depending upon our age, our parents or grandparents learned during the Great Depression.

Walking 1.5 miles to school hasn’t crippled children just like living in a house within our means doesn’t make us homeless.

In the end kids will be better off getting a bit more exercise, the air they will breathe will be a bit cleaner, and families will save a bit more money.
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