As more families start walking to school, the benefits spread beyond just the school to the entire neighborhood.
How bad is the drop-off traffic congestion in front of your kid’s school?
If you’re like most parents in America, you’ll agree it’s pretty bad. Cars pulling up to the curb and pulling away, buses idling, parents running late, kids in a hurry to get to class.
Kara Sergile, a consultant and mom of two elementary school-age girls in Glendale, CA, had enough of the morning drop-off craziness. In 2009, she decided to do something about it. Working with school and city officials as part of a Safe Routes to School grant, the elementary school focused first on adding stop signs and improving crosswalks near the school. Once the immediate safety concerns were taken care of, Kara turned to the next step: convincing families who lived nearby to ditch the car and start walking to school.
Kara’s chosen method of encouragement? Students walking to schools in groups. She organized a walking school bus, a group of children that walks together to and from school under the supervision of an adult, usually a parent volunteer or teacher. It’s like a carpool, except without the car and traffic—with the added benefits of increased physical activity and socialization with friends and neighbors.
Kara describes the first few walking school buses she organized in 2009 as very informal. She promoted the student walks to school by emailing parents she knew who lived in her neighborhood along the route to school. Interest among families grew, and over the next couple of years, the program expanded to include four different walking school buses, leaving from different neighborhood locations on the first Friday of every month. The principal started joining the “First Fridays,” as the monthly walk-to-school days were called, walking with a different group of kids each month.
Today, more than 100 kids, parents, and teachers walk to school every week on Fridays, meeting up at four different neighborhood locations. The principal still joins a different group of walkers each week, and Kara refers to the “Principal Rissy effect” in which ranks swell in anticipation of the principal accompanying the route on a given week.
Walking school buses are one of the cornerstone activities of Fire Up Your Feet, a nationwide program that motivates students, families and school staff to walk more, play more, and create healthy, active lifestyles. Fire Up Your Feet, an initiative of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Kaiser Permanente and National PTA, provides a full range of age-appropriate resources and educational materials to encourage physical activity to, from and at schools, with simple ways to track activity, earn awards, fundraise in a healthy way and stay motivated in a fun and friendly environment.
As more families start walking to school, the benefits spread beyond just the school to the entire neighborhood. Parents and school staff might be inspired to conduct a walkability audit to see how safety and convenience of routes can be improved. Walking school buses can invite law enforcement and city officials to accompany them to gain a sense of how the community could be served by safety improvements such as crosswalks or better signage. At Kara’s school, the walking school bus spurred parents to start a bike train program, and now more families are biking to school.
Want to start a walking school bus at your school? You’ll find resources, a checklist, and inspiration at fireupyourfeet.org. It’s free to participate and easy to sign up. Join the walking movement today.