HOISINGTON — Starting out the day with fresh air and exercise prepares energetic kids for learning and school. Hoisington now buzzes with activity in those early morning hours that once saw mostly vehicle traffic.
Beginning at 7 a.m., volunteers walk through the neighborhoods, picking up kids who walk together to learning centers. USD 431 School District has keyed into the health benefits of that old fashioned mode of transportation by starting a Walking School Bus.
A Walking School Bus is where volunteers walk with kids to school, teaching safety, but also having some fun along the way, which benefits the volunteers, too.
“I look forward to getting out and feel energized,” said Amy Haxton, one of the two volunteer coordinators for USD 431. “It’s fun to talk to the kids.”
Two of Haxton’s kids walk. “They really like it,” she said. “They get excited to get up and get ready for school.”
She said there are 102 kids walking and 35 volunteers.
Hoisington citizens have noticed the morning activity and enjoy the dynamic atmosphere of the community on the move. One citizen, Robert Glenn, volunteers as a crossing guard at Highway 4, but whose biggest achievement, it seems, is getting the kids to laugh.
USD 431 runs a shuttle program from school to school, but for the duration of the program has suspended it. As a result, not only are the kindergarteners through fifth graders now walking to school, the middle school students are also walking to school as well. Plus, USD 431 has a preschool program, and some pre-k students walk with their parent volunteers.
“It feels like a new transportation system,” in Hoisington said Robert Johnson, consultant for the Walking School Bus for the Kansas Department of Transportation. There have been 200 Walking School Bus programs in 29 states and Johnson said Hoisington and the program in Riley just might be the two best programs he has seen.
Johnson visited the community and took pictures. He was pleased with the progressive attitude of the district in dealing with kid’s problems with obesity,
Hoisington has about 38 percent of students walking to school, USD 431 Superintendent Bill Lowry said. The district will monitor before and after fitness level of the kids and also office referrals.
There has been a decrease in afternoon principal referrals, but the school will keep track throughout the program, said Alan Charles, principal of Roosevelt School.
Another advantage is that the walking reduces costs for the district in running shuttle buses and reduces congestion in front of the schools.
The school will run the program from Oct. 1-Nov. 14 this fall and then once again in the spring.
All of the volunteers go through a background check. Parents sign the kids up, and then the volunteers pick up the kids.
The volunteers teach the kids safety when walking. Kim Kindscher, who also is a volunteer coordinator, teaches the students to make sure the that the driver of the car makes eye contact and stops before crossing in the cross walk.
Johnson also said that he is impressed with the number of volunteers Kindscher and Haxton recruited. They had a booth at school registration, participated in the Labor Day parade, spoke to friends, and knocked the doors of businesses. They run ten routes.
“They have greatly exceeded expectations,” Johnson said. “Most schools if they have 5 percent (participation), they’ve hit a home run.”