Notes are going home from elementary school all over town this week to encourage parents to sign up their children for the Walking School Bus.
The Walking School Bus is a fun, safe way for children in USD 428 to walk to school from April 1 to May 25. Routes will be formed and volunteers passing a background check will escort the kids to school.
Riley School was one of 15 pilot schools in the state last fall. It was so successful that the other four public elementary schools in Great Bend decided to join this spring. Two schools in Hoisington also participate.
Forms are available at the various attendance centers. Once names are taken, project coordinators will plot where the kids live on maps and develop walking routes. The number of volunteers recruited will determine how many bus lines will be at each school.
Bryan Scott, Riley School coordinator, said about half of Riley kids were involved last fall and he saw the rate of tardiness fall by 40 percent.
“It brings a lot of joy to the kids,” Scott said. “They get rid of excess energy and a lot of talking on the way to school. When they get there, they are ready to focus on learning.”
Robert Johnson, director of consulting for PedNet, the nonprofit organization promoting the Walking School bus, said that in 1969 half of all children in the U.S walked to school. Currently in the Midwest, that statistic is 6 percent.
“Childhood obesity is a real problem with long-lasting effects,” Johnson said. “The health benefits of walking are huge for kids and adults.”
When surveyed, many parents cite distance, traffic, weather and crime as reasons why they do not allow their children to walk to school.
“The Walking School Bus addresses most of those,” Johnson said. Routes are no farther than a mile, they use safely plotted routes, only walk in reasonable weather and have reliable volunteers to help keep children safe.
“This is a door-to-door service,” he said. “It couldn’t be any easier for parents to let their kids be a part of it. The problem really is finding enough volunteers once parents sign on. We never have enough volunteers.”
Volunteer training has been set for March 23-27. More information about that will be forthcoming.