Jack Jewsbury signed autographs and accompanied children and parents to Mary Woodward Elementary.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jack Jewsbury, retired Portland Timbers FC midfielder, was a special guest for Tigard's International Walk and Bike to School Day program in the Summer Lake neighborhood on Wednesday.On Wednesday morning, Oct. 4, more than 20 schoolchildren got a chance to walk — or ride bicycles and scooters — to Mary Woodward Elementary School with someone they probably don't see around the neighborhood much, but whom they have likely seen on television.

Jack Jewsbury, former team captain of the Portland Timbers FC, signed autographs for kids and chatted with parents, city officials and TV news crews at Summerlake Park in Tigard. He then accompanied them to the nearby grade school, leading the way with a "Walk and Bike to School" flag.

It's a dilemma that's plagued families since the earliest days of the schoolhouse: What is the best way for kids to get to and from school? Many parents work — can kids go to school and return home safely without needing an escort, or a lift? If they take the bus, how long will the ride take — in other words, how early do they have to wake up for school? If they live within walking or biking distance, are there routes that are direct without being dangerous — no blind curves, sidewalks and bike lanes, and low speed limits?

"One of the biggest obstacles for parents is, 'Is it safe for my kids to get to school this way?'" said Jennifer Vacisek, a Woodward Elementary parent. "So anything we can do to eliminate that barrier is awesome."

International Walk and Bike to School Day seeks to call attention to the issue. Sometimes called "Walk, Bike and Roll to School Day" — after all, kick scooters and skateboards are a popular means of getting around for many kids — it has become an annual tradition in Tigard, with the city partnering with schools and parents to promote walking and biking events like the one on Wednesday.

Vacisek is a Safe Routes to School volunteer coordinator for the program in Tigard. She was one of the original organizers, getting involved when her son — now in second grade — had just started kindergarten at Woodward.

"The school didn't have a Safe Routes to School coordinator, and my husband and I are big in the biking community here … and so I offered to the principal to do this, and it has just kind of grown every year since we started," Vacisek said.

Studies have shown early-morning exercise boosts metabolism and brain function. That's an important factor, Vacisek suggested.

"It gets kids to school more ready to learn, and that's an awesome thing," she said. "It also kind of gets your blood flowing and just sort of awakens you in the morning, and afternoon, we love it as a way to kind of have a chat on the way home and … decompress from the day."

As a former athlete, Jewsbury — who retired last year and now works in the Timbers' front office — can attest to the importance of exercise and fitness.

"I have two little ones myself," he said.

For his family, as well as the Timbers organization and their sister club, the Portland Thorns FC, Jewsbury added, "It's all about health and wellness, and getting kids out and about, and making sure that you are making exercise an everyday thing. And so for me to be out here with an unbelievable group of people walking and biking to school and making that a more normal thing for people, I think that's important."

Part of Jewsbury's continuing role with the Timbers is community outreach of the sort he did Wednesday. He's not a Tigard resident, he said, but he lives close enough that he was able to come out to Summerlake Park when Vacisek asked.

"Obviously for me when I was a player, we have a very special fanbase, so to get out in the community, meet some of our fans — whether they're adults or kids — is special. And it's special even today. In this group of kids that are walking, we've got 10, 15 kids that I see with Timbers and Thorns jerseys on. … That's just amazing for us to see every day."

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times
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