Drive down First Street early in the morning on a weekday, and you'll likely see groups of children walking down the sidewalks or riding bicycles on their way to school.

Health officials say biking or walking is a great way for students to work some exercise into their day, but they also have concerns about the safety of those students. They would like to see the promotion of more "safe routes to school."

"I think there are a lot of places parents know, and places community members know, where it's not safe for kids to be crossing," said Lynnette Redington, Harvey County Health Department director.

"Student safety is a priority," agreed USD 373 school board member Barbara Bunting.

Bunting would like to see the community look into becoming more involved in the Kansas Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to School program. The goal of the program is to encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school, and to make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation alternative. This federally-funded program provides reimbursements to cities, counties and school districts for projects that focus on education, encouragement, enforcement, engineering and evaluation.

Phase 1 of the program is an application for funding to create a Safe Routes to School plan. Funding can be used for technical assistance, assessment and project/activity planning support. Phase 1 is for $12,000 with a 20 percent match.

Once agencies have a Safe Routes to School plan, they can apply for Phase 2, which is funding to implement all or a portion of the plan. Project funding is capped at $200,000.

Bunting said the Safe Routes to School program might be a creative way to find funding to help children maintain a healthier lifestyle. Having children bike or walk to school could be an easy method of promoting exercise.

"That's a pretty efficient way to accomplish health and wellness," Bunting said.

Even though schools already are doing what they can to work physical activity into the school day, it can be tough for teachers, especially when they are trying to focus on academics, Redington said. Students also may not get much exercise when they get home if they spend their free time watching TV or playing video games.

"The statistic is that in two generations, we will have the largest percentage of obese children in the world," she said. "... Safe Routes to School will promote that healthy lifestyle, getting them more minutes of physical activity."