Walking to school on a warm fall morning is a rite of passage for many Florida kids. But sometimes, those kids have to cross a busy street, or maybe the walk is a mile or more. It can be tough for parents to feel good about letting their children walk to school under those circumstances. If only there was a way they could be in a group with other students and supervision…. Enter the Walking School Bus.
What is a Walking School Bus?
A Walking School Bus (WSB) is a safe, active and fun way for kids to get to school. Like a traditional school bus, the WSB has a route and children meet at designated pickup points. Instead of being picked up by a bus, students are picked up by adult leaders who walk them to and from school as a group.
Why start a Walking School Bus?
A Walking School Bus is a great solution for students that live close enough to walk to school, but far enough that walking alone might present safety concerns. WSB’s also teach students about active transportation and pedestrian safety. Students who walk to school have been found to have a higher academic performance and lower stress levels throughout the day.
How can I start a Walking School Bus in my neighborhood?
Starting a walking school bus is easy! Anyone can do it. We broke it down for you into five steps:
- Recruit your team
The first thing you need to do is assemble a team. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership recommends recruiting school staff members, a PTO/PTA representative and a student representative. Other possible team members include law enforcement officials, neighborhood watch and a neighborhood association representative.
- Answer some questions
No two neighborhoods are the same, and your WSB should be tailored to the needs of your neighborhood and school. Answering these questions with your team can help you tailor your WSB to the needs of your neighborhood.
- How formal or informal is the structure of your WSB?
- Does it require student registration?
- When will it start and end?
- How many days a week will it operate?
- Will it operate in the morning, afternoon or both?
- How many routes will you need?
- How can you accommodate children with physical and mental disabilities?
- What is the plan for inclement weather?
- Create routes
Once you and your team have answered those questions, you can begin drawing up the routes. You may need to guess where students live based on information given to you by the school. This will help you determine an accessible route and where stops should be placed. Once you have a route in mind, test its walkability. This checklist from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center is a great resource for assessing your WSB route. Once you’ve decided on a route, we recommend timing the route before and after school.
- Recruit students and leaders
After you’ve mapped your routes, it’s time to recruit your leaders and participants. Working with your school will be the most effective way to recruit student participants and adult leaders. Promote the WSB in school announcements and at school events, as well as PTA/PTO meetings. You may also want to promote in any neighborhood publications such as HOA newsletters or the Nextdoor app. The number of adult leaders you need will depend on how many student participants you have. Check with your school for the recommended parent-to-child ratio on field trips to calculate how many adult leaders you’ll need.
- Getting Started
You’ve got the routes, the rules and the people – it’s time to get the WSB up and running. Walk to School Day 2019 (October 2) is the perfect day to launch and promote your WSB. Work with your school to coordinate an event and promote it through school publications. Continue to recruit students and leaders through flyers and social media posts and keep an informational flyer or brochure about your WSB on hand for interested potential participants, and refer to the Step by Step Guide from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership for more information about running a WSB.
A Walking School Bus is a perfect way to get kids active, teach them about pedestrian safety, and minimize time spent in a bumper-to-bumper school pick-up line.