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Child Safety: Organize a "Walking School Bus"

by Mimi Sawyer
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Child safety while walking to school is a big issue for parents. With nearly 171,000 child pedestrians injured by vehicles each year, getting to school can be dangerous due to unsafe or inadequate sidewalks and crosswalks in today's suburban areas. In fact, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, 31 percent of kids in grades K-8 live within one mile of school and 35 percent of them usually walk or bike to school.   

Despite the essential benefits of walking to school (regular exercise, traffic reduction, environmental awareness, and community involvement), parents are also fearful of exposure to strangers and a lack of supervision.

With children's safety in mind, school districts and city councils are now developing school safety programs which include healthy and fun school-walking plans. Safe Routes to School is a $612-million federal plan to help parents and schools promote exercise and child safety by creating secure, supervised, and organized school routes.

Walking School Bus Programs

Walking School Bus programs are part of the solution. A Walking School Bus is made up of groups of school children who are safely lead and supervised by volunteer adult "bus leaders" on the way to and from school. These groups of kids stick together as they walk to school along a safe, preset route.

With fewer parents driving to school, traffic around the school, especially at drop-off and pick-up points, will be greatly reduced — by over 20% in many areas.

Fortunately, Walking School Bus programs are well-accepted by kids because it gives them the opportunity to socialize while walking safely in groups, rather than being stuck in a car. Children like staying together before and after classes, walking with their own classmates and meeting students from others classes.

If you like the idea, your Walking School Bus could start off with as few as a couple of families, and as the Walking School Bus's popularity grows, additional student "passengers" can be picked up at predetermined "bus stops" along the safe-school route.

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Improve school safety by starting a Walking School Bus program in your neighborhood:

  • Recruit Walking School Bus leaders: Recruit neighbors, parents and other adult volunteers to provide supervision on the walks, both to and from school. At least one adult for every six children is a good starting number for the safest groups. Younger children usually require more supervision.
  • Organize the Walking School Bus leaders: Once you have a pool of Walking School Bus leaders ready, coordinate regular schedules among them, and have back-up volunteers available. Consent forms will help to inform parents and volunteers of child safety concerns and prepare them to lead safe school walks.
  • Designate routes: Work with the police department, parents and school administrators to determine best Walking School Bus routes. A walkability checklist will help you plan child-safe routes. Bus leaders and organizers should first test-walk the route in order to identify and correct potential child-safety hazards.
  • Teach children safety: Kids can learn to be safe and careful pedestrians with classroom education activities on safe ways to walk to school, crosswalk signals and walking instructions.
  • Publicize the Walking School Bus: Let the community know about your neighborhood's child safety project at school assembly and PTA meetings. You can also send press releases to your local paper and offer photo opportunities. 

With a Walking School Bus plan in place, your community will enjoy healthier students, quieter, more connected neighborhoods, and safer streets. Kids will look forward to the fun of getting to and from school, and parents will appreciate knowing that their child safety concerns have been addressed.

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