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Walking School Bus
Paves Way to Healthier Kids

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Tired of traffic congestion in and around your school? Looking for a way to put more physical exercise into your students' day? Perhaps your school should be the next stop for the "walking school bus," -- groups of children who are led to and from school by adult volunteers. Included: See how a few simple steps can put a walking bus in motion!

Safety is a key concern for parents in Indiana, Pennsylvania. That's why parents, schools, and a neighborhood organization there banded together to organize a Walking Bus, a program in which groups of students walk to school under the supervision of adult volunteers. An adult "driver" on each "bus" leads the walkers, watching for problems along the route, and a "conductor" stays at the back of the group to monitor student behavior.

Indiana students en route as part of a "walking school bus."

(Photo courtesy of Amy O'Neal, Indiana Area School District)

"We officially started in May 2001, with a pilot program at Horace Mann Elementary School," recalled Mike Travis, transportation director/safety supervisor for the Indiana (Pennsylvania) Area School District. "That year, two routes with a total of 20 students participated during the last full month of school. We kicked off the 2002 school year with 50 students on four routes, two each at Eisenhower Elementary and Horace Mann schools."

CATCHING THE BUS

"The kids use the time walking to socialize with their peers and enjoy their surroundings," observed Travis. "This winter, I had the opportunity to walk with a group that spent the entire time skating along slippery sidewalks and romping in snowdrifts. In short, the kids get to be kids."

Bus "Walkers"
Enjoy Benefits

Emma Craddock of Kia Motors, which organized the Pennsylvania walking bus program, suggests many reasons for other communities to take a ride on the walking bus. Walking buses, says Craddock:

* Take pressure off parents in the morning.

* Provide children with a healthy, educational, and environmentally friendly way of getting to school each day.

* Reduce traffic congestion around schools and elsewhere.

* Teach children "road sense."

* Prepare students for the day ahead. They arrive awake, alert, and ready to learn.

Student walkers are expected to follow the same rules of behavior that apply in the classroom and on school buses, and they must obey all pedestrian traffic laws. Any cases of misconduct by students are reported to the school principal.

"We have received positive feedback from parents whose children participate in the walking school bus program," Travis reported. "Many appreciate the fact that the children are participating in a daily physical activity. Some utilize the program because they are working parents whose schedules do not allow them to take their children to school. A few are single parents with young children who, without the program, would have to take their infants to school along with their older children."

Although student participation has decreased to 30 during the current school year, the number of volunteers willing to walk the routes with the students has increased. Many of the new volunteers have been "recruited" by others or have heard about the program from members of the community.

"Our pool of volunteers is very diverse," said Travis. "It includes parents, grandparents, community leaders, teachers and other school staff members, high school students from the community service club, honor students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and student teachers working at the elementary schools."

THESE SHOES WERE MADE FOR WALKING

Adult commuters in the area should appreciate the program too. The adults who chaperone the walkers add a measure of security for those commuters. The children also learn responsibility for their own safety and achieve a sense of independence. As an unforeseen benefit of the program, the walking school bus has brought the community together through its many volunteers and has given the neighborhood a powerful and valued role in the lives of its children.

Students at Eisenhower Elementary (shown here) take the walking "bus" even through the cold Pennsylvania winter.

(Photo courtesy of Cara Bafile)

The only costs to the district for the program are the time and effort involved in promotion and participation. Civic groups, community service organizations, and senior citizen groups have been called upon to help recruit volunteers. Because the program offers varied benefits, volunteers have different reasons for joining, but Travis says the most important benefit is that the community is participating.

"The idea of walking to and from school is a change of lifestyle and mindset," he explained. "In today's society, we are programmed to believe that it is quicker and easier to get in the car, travel six blocks, and sit in traffic congestion around the school than it is to walk that same short distance. The idea has to be embraced by those who are looking for alternatives for their community and their children's lives. It seems a little nostalgic, but it is, in a way, getting back to the way things used to be before there were so many vehicles. Sounds so simple, doesn't it?"

THE WALKING BUS DELIVERS

Indiana's walking school bus program was introduced by a group called LINC (Livable Indiana Neighborhood Connections), a community partnership dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles and neighborhoods through increased walking and bicycling. The group's first initiative was to address the needs of students walking to and from schools. LINC applied for and received enhancement grant money to make improvements to sidewalks, street crossings, and other pedestrian related sites.

The Walking Bus initiative began in the UK as an effort to improve student health and reduce traffic congestion. The idea has spread both nationally and internationally, and is now cropping up in towns such as Indiana.

"As a car company, Kia Motors UK has addressed an important issue and is doing something about it," Emma Craddock told Education World. "By promoting sensible car use and helping children across the UK walk to school, the company hopes to reduce congestion and make our roads better places to be."

Craddock works as coordinator for the Walking Bus program on behalf of Kia in Weybridge, Surrey (UK). She handles requests for information packets and gives advice to parents about how to contact their local councils to set up new routes.

"It is a bit difficult to track the history of the walking bus in Britain, as it is a very regionally-based activity," Craddock explained. "Kia began supporting the walking bus in June of 2000 and since then has help launch more than 250 walking bus routes in the UK. We have worked with the pedestrian's association on Walk to School Week programs to try and encourage more people to walk to school -- as a regular occurrence."

According to Craddock, schools interested in establishing walking buses should follow a few simple steps.

  • Talk to students. See if they like the idea and will walk to school each morning with their friends.
  • Talk to parents. A walking bus typically includes 15-20 children and needs a rotation of 6-10 parent supervisors.
  • Discuss viable routes. Draw upon parent, school, and community resources to find the safest and most practical routes for the "buses" to travel.
  • Use community safety resources. Invite officers from safety organizations to verify the routes and provide advice about training volunteers.
  • Make sure children get "on the bus" when it launches.

"In the UK, one in five cars on the road at 8:50 a.m. is on the school run," said Craddock. "If we can cut that, our congestion problems would be solved, and our children would be fitter and healthier."

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Walking Bus
This Kia Motors site offers a thorough introduction to the walking bus, including why they are effective and how to set one up in your hometown.

The Walking School Bus: Combining Safety, Fun, and the Walk to School
A guide from the National Center of Safe Routes to School.

Walking Buses - Providing Safe Routes to School
They originate in the UK and, according to walkingbus.com, they are the nearest activity to perfect exercise. Essentially, each walking bus has an adult...

The Walking School Bus Information Web Site
Find an index of links to many Internet resources about the walking bus program.

Walking School Bus
The Walking Bus was invented by David Engwicht in 1991 to overcome the problems of traffic safety and perceptions of stranger danger. A 'Walking Bus Driver' walks a set route each morning and afternoon and picks up children at Walking Bus Stops.

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