The Walking School Bus Program
What is a Walking School Bus?
A walking school bus is merely a group of children walking to school with one or more adults for supervision. This could be as simple as just two families in a neighborhood agreeing to take turns walking the kids to school. The program was developed to ensure the safety of the kids and promote healthy living. A walking school bus also enforces strict walking routes, schedules, a timetable and meeting points. A trusted group of trained volunteers rotate schedules walking the children to school each day.
Another option is for a group of kids and adults to ride their bikes to and from school.
The Benefits of a Walking School Bus
Studies show that fewer kids than ever are walking or biking to school and they are at a much higher risk of obesity and poor health due to lack of exercise. Parents are concerned about the safety of allowing their kids to walk to school alone. The walking school bus solves both of these problems.
The walking school bus has many benefits for children, volunteers, families and school administrators. First, the kids have fun, while also learning pedestrian safety. They learn about their neighborhoods while also getting healthy exercise. They get to know kids of other ages and grades while learning to become more independent.
Families benefit by saving gas from driving back and forth to school and they feel more comfortable that their kids are safe from harm. The Walking School Bus Program also supports the AMBER Alert system as kids are going to school and back to home in a safe way. They also get to meet other neighboring families.
Volunteers serve the community, get to know local families and also get healthy exercise.z
The schools benefit from less congestion and fewer cars around the school during drop-off and pickup times.
State Success Stories
Many factors affect the success of a walking school bus program such as the number of participating families, the safety of the walking route, the number of cars on the road and the availability of remote parking areas. However despite these challenges, many states have implemented walking school bus programs to great success.
The state of Maine has implanted The Maine Walking School Bus (WSB) Program. Both the Maine Center for Disease Control and the Maine Department of Transportation have contributed funds to help support the program, and they have created videos documenting their success and to share how the program works.
Their program has enjoyed these benefits as stated on their website: “improving student learning and behavior; providing regular physical activity; improving traffic congestion, safety, and air quality; and fostering community connections and reducing absenteeism.”
Multiple districts in New Jersey including Hanover, Shrewsbury, Middlesex Borough, and Lambertville have implemented successful Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs including walking school buses, International Walk to School Day, along with bike safety programs and other initiatives to reduce congestion around schools and keep kids safe.
Orange County California has enjoyed great success with their walking school bus program as well. It was started as a response to concerned parents over the safety of their kids who walked to school. The Orange County Health Care Agency trains and supports volunteers and families willing to join the program.
Olive Elementary School in Anaheim was the first school to begin using the program in California and created a celebratory video showcasing their success with it.
How to Start a Walking School Bus
Any area no matter how large or small can start a walking school bus program. In remote areas where families live further from school, parents can drop kids off at designated remote parking spots so kids can still participate.
Recruit Volunteers and Partners
The first step to starting your own walking school bus program is to invite families and find volunteers willing to walk the children to school. Sometimes community organizations will sponsor and support these programs with funds and training. You will need one adult per six children. For younger kids (age 4-6) the CDC recommends one adult per three children.
When selecting a group of volunteers to walk your kids to school don’t forget to vet each one thoroughly using a background check. Your kid's safety is at stake, and you want to cover all your bases using common sense leaving nothing to chance.
Walking School Bus Training
Communities groups, school officials and law enforcement agencies offer training for families, students, and volunteers. Things to consider during training are does the route feel safe? Do you have enough room for all the kids to walk safely? Can you cross the street easily? Are drivers aggressive or careful?
Next, you will want to identify the safest routes that are appropriate and work with the schedule to get kids to school on time. You should pick alternate routes on days when construction or traffic makes it difficult to travel. You can consult law enforcement or school bus representatives to help with this.
Finalize Your Schedule and Kick it Off
The final step is to organize rotating schedules, pick a timetable that works for each family and do a dry run on a weekend. Walk the route yourself first without any children to gauge the logistics and feel of the route. You should also consider things like after-school programs and if your school bus program will operate after hours. Also consider how often each week volunteers can commit.
Once you know your program works, you can kick it off, take action and let the fun, healthy exercise and safety begin.