Promising Examples

The programs described here show real-life examples of the variety of ways a walking school bus can be conducted and the unique approaches used to meet local needs.

Ephesus Elementary School, Chapel Hill, NC

Ephesus Elementary School, Chapel Hill, NC

At Ephesus Elementary School, an informal walking school bus program with self-organized groups works well. In different neighborhoods, parents and children meet and walk to school together. Parents watch for the group to pass by their homes and join when they see them. If a parent cannot walk on a particular day, he or she contacts another walking parent to supervise their child on the way to school. Parents say that walking to school has been a wonderful way to meet other parents (G. Bell & B. Bell, personal communication, 2005).

Olive Chapel Elementry School, Apex, NC

In 2004, the Olive Chapel Walk to School Coalition began a walking school bus. The program was a safe way to provide students an opportunity to walk to school despite the construction activities in nearby neighborhoods.

Olive Chapel Elementary School, Apex, NC

Once a month, “neighborhood captains,” parents and children walk from each of six departure points around the area. One route meets in a parking lot so that families who live too far to walk can participate. Twenty-two volunteers serve as neighborhood captains and walk with children and their parents on the six routes to school. The captains, who receive safety training prior to leading the walks, wear green vests and use whistles to communicate to children when they need to stop. Because the program is designed to be family-oriented, parents are required to walk with their children to school. Parents arrange among themselves to supervise other children. Reminders about the monthly walk are sent home on the previous Friday and children who participate receive prizes.

A parent and the school PE teacher share leadership of this growing program. Since it began, one route has as many as 200 people who regularly walk (K. Parsons, personal communication, 2005).

Natomas Park Elementary School, Sacramento, CA

Natomas Park Elementary School, Sacramento, CA

At Natomas Park, the parent-led program includes five routes with a timetable for each stop. In order to participate, parents register their children in advance.

Walk leaders include parents and employees from a local business, which is a sponsor of the program. Each volunteer must have a background check prior to participation. Training for volunteers, provided by the parent leader, includes first aid, CPR and pedestrian safety. While walking, volunteers wear vests and carry first aid kits.

To recognize the walkers’ achievements, parent volunteers track the total number of miles walked during the school year and announce it at a year-end assembly. Walkers also receive T-shirts and certificates.

About fifty children participate and many more children are now seen walking to school. Organizers are considering expanding the program to include remote sites where parents can drop-off their children with adult volunteers who walk with children the rest of the way to school (G. Plessas, personal communication, 2005).

C.P. Smith Elementary School, Burlington, Vermont

C.P. Smith Elementary School, Burlington, VT

C.P. Smith Elementary School’s walking school bus has operated every Wednesday since March 2005, as part of a Safe Routes to School program.

While the bordering neighborhood has a fairly complete sidewalk system, some families were concerned about their children walking to school due to considerable traffic congestion along their route. Parents initiated and continue to lead the school’s walking school bus. In winter 2005, they organized a meeting with other interested families to discuss their concerns and develop guidelines for a walking school bus. The group determined the route, departure time, meeting points and other details.

Now, every Wednesday morning the bus departs from a walk leader’s house with a small group of children. For late arriving students, a closed garage door indicates that the bus has already departed. The group continues along a major roadway picking up children along the way. Some parents join in the walk while others drop their children at the stop and leave when the bus arrives. There is no written schedule; however organizers hope to install signs along the route indicating stops and schedules. Before the walking school bus began, approximately six children walked this route to school. Now on Walking Wednesdays there are between 25 and 40 children and the traffic congestion along the route has all but disappeared (K. Akins, personal communication, 2005).

Mason Elementary in Duluth, GA

Planning their kick-off Walk and Roll to School Day, the Mason Safe Routes to School Team thought they’d include a bike train, but with only one student ever seen bicycling to school, they didn’t actually expect more than a rider or two to pedal with the train that morning. To their great surprise, 45 children showed up with bicycles and helmets, eager to participate in Mason’s first-ever bicycle train.

Mason Elementary School, Duluth, GA

With that overwhelming start, the Mason bicycle train has become an integral part of the school’s monthly “Walk and Roll to School Day” events. The train is staffed by volunteers from the local Gwinnett County Bicycle Users Group and a few Mason parents. The “engineer” leads the group, the “caboose” brings up the rear. Additional adults are interspersed between the children with a typical ratio of 1 adult to 4 children. The train has two starting “stations” in the morning and then the two groups are intended to meet and form one large train that rides down the highly traveled road to the school. In the afternoon, the bicycle trains run back to their starting “stations.”

Prior to each event, the Safe Routes Team sends a flyer home with each student announcing the Walking School Bus and Bike Train schedule. The flyer includes a permission slip which students must return signed by a parent in order to participate. Children in grades K-2 must have a parent accompany them. The train leaders are provided a list of participants at the start of each ride. This procedure helps clarify liability issues and assists in planning for the number of adults needed for the event.

Riders are asked to bring their own helmet and lock, but the bicycle train leaders always have extra helmets on hand, just in case. As the group gathers, the leaders distribute bright neon-green reflective safety vests, generously provided by the Georgia Department of Transportation. The vests provide high visibility for safety on the road and have become the “signature” of the Mason bicycle train.

A few years ago, bicycling to school was unheard-of at Mason. The monthly well-supervised bicycle trains have shown families in the neighborhoods around the school that bicycling can be a transportation option, and many have now incorporated bicycling into their own daily travel patterns (S. Bagatell, personal communication, 2006).