A Walking School Bus conjures up some interesting notions. It is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. If that sounds simple, it is, and that’s part of the beauty of the walking school bus. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their children to school to as structured as a route with meeting points, a timetable and a regular rotation schedule of adult leaders.
Why talk about this now? Wednesday, May 6, is Massachusetts Safe Routes to School Day, also known as, Walk Bike to School Day. All of the Melrose schools, including the middle and elementary schools, will again participate in this, not only, state, but international event.
Driving kids to school is not unique to America, although the US is higher than other industrialized countries. The first Safe Routes to School programs were in Denmark and then later in England. In both countries, safety training, safety improvements along walking and bicycling routes, and community involvement have significantly increased the number of children walking and bicycling to school, while reducing the number of accidents related to travel to school. The first pilot program in Massachusetts was in Arlington in 2001. It began due to grave concerns associated with traffic congestion, declining youth fitness, deteriorating air quality, and the diminishing personal contact within neighborhoods.
Why go through so much effort to walk to school? Teachers and principals would like children to walk to school so that they arrive alert and ready to learn. School officials also would like to reduce the congestion and safety risks posed by hundreds of parents dropping off their children at schools each day. And public health officials want to reverse some alarming trends such as childhood obesity and children not meeting minimum fitness standards. Walking and bicycling to and from school are ways to put daily exercise back into your children’s lives.
Melrose’s street pattern predates the 1950s. The streets were laid out for neighborhood based elementary schools and are not able to accommodate large numbers of traffic. Sargent Goc, head of the Melrose Police Traffic Division said, “The biggest hazard [at the schools] is the large volume of traffic.”
Habits are formed early: Ask your children – do you want to walk or bike to school instead of being driven? Surveys of grades K-5 found that half the children who are driven to school would rather walk or bicycle. But by middle school, children have already established habits.
Children need to learn to walk and bike safely and responsibly. If they are not taught these skills, they are at risk whenever they walk or bike, all through their childhoods.
So start a Walking School Bus, if you don’t already have one! If you live more than a mile away from the school, try a variation of the walking school bus — the bicycle train, in which adults supervise children riding their bike to school.