Even before the financial crisis, our schools faced major cuts to their funding. Things that used to seem untouchable are being eliminated or reduced. In some cases basic programs such as physical education classes or school buses are disappearing. Parents, teachers and administers have had to make tough choices on what to cut and what to leave intact. As more and more programs are eliminated, parents and unpaid volunteers take on a larger percentage of the burden.
One way that innovative volunteers have addressed budget cuts is through establishing walking school buses. These volunteers take a designated and consistent route to and from school, picking up children at their homes or at designated “bus stops” along the way. This form of people-powered transportation gets kids safely to school while addressing the dual problems of reduced physical education and cuts to school bus routes.
Safety is a major concern for parents whose children walk to school, according to the website Starting a Walking School Bus. Having a walking school bus or a safe route to school not only addresses these concerns, but also helps build a community around healthy life choices. Adults and children form trusting relationships that allow both parents and children to feel safe — not only on their way to school, but also in their neighborhoods and community.
Volunteers are the backbone of walking school buses. They organize bus routes, work with school administrators and parents and run the routes. The number of volunteers needed to operate a route depends on the number and ages of children who are participating, but every route should be designed to ensure that all of the children involved are cared for by a trusted adult.
Walking school buses make a big impact on their community. VicHealth, an Australian health foundation that led the development of the Walking School Bus program, has compiled extensive data on the broader impacts of such projects. Their research found that walking school buses have educational, social and health benefits for students. They give a sense of ownership to volunteers, save parents money, reduce traffic and increase safety to neighborhoods around schools, and support sustainability in the community at large. Elsie Lebrock, a volunteer with Walking School Bus, says, “You meet a lot of people you normally wouldn’t give a second look to. I get a lot of pleasure out of getting to know the kids and developing trust and a rapport with them. Sometimes I wish I had 20 arms so I could hug them all at once!”
Walking school buses are a great way to connect your community, encourage healthy living, make friends and meet the needs of children, parents and schools. For information on how to start one in your community, visit Walking School Bus or read success stories on how walking school buses have made a difference in other communities.
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