Today is International Walk to School Day, an annual event involving communities from more than 40 countries worldwide.

To help celebrate, members of UCF’s Center for Public and Nonprofit Management, which runs the “Walking School Bus” program in Central Florida, joined students and parents this morning for their walk to Lakemont Elementary School in Winter Park.

“This ‘holiday’ encourages students to enjoy the benefits of walking to school,” said Pehlke, assistant director of the program. “Today we had an especially nice morning to share that message.”

Also participating from the center was Director Thomas Bryer, a member of the School of Public Administration faculty. Two others from UCF participated as well — Shelby Anderson, a representative from Volunteer UCF, and Omar Ramos-Roman, a student minoring in nonprofit management.

The group walked a designated route to Lakemont Elementary established by the program. Along the way, other children joined the group.

At the final checkpoint before reaching the school, Winter Park Mayor Kenneth Bradley greeted the walkers. He commended the students for walking to school, and he spoke with reporters about the value of such a healthy start to the day. The students also were treated to give-a-ways, such as water bottles and stickers. Then the group, including Mayor Bradley, walked the last leg of the route.

“Walking School Bus builds stronger communities by encouraging young people to walk to school together with trained volunteers,” Pehlke said. “Students who participate learn pedestrian safety, develop healthy habits and form new friendships. The community wins through reduced traffic congestion and improved air quality.”

The Center for Public and Nonprofit Management established Walking School Bus in 2012. Currently, the program includes nine elementary schools in three counties in Central Florida, with some 500 students enrolled as participants.

The center is evaluating the project’s success based on student and parent awareness about pedestrian safety, increased physical activity of kids, and improved academic achievement and behavior related to enhanced physical health, Bryer said.

Next year, International Walk to School Day is planned for Oct. 7.

For additional photos by Abi Bell, visit Walking School Bus 2014.