special to digital journal:
There are now 10 walking buses at the school and 28 children and 18 adult volunteers are signed up for the program.
The program is being funded with $25,000 in grants. The Kansas Department of Transportation has given $15,000 of that grant money. Part of the Safe Routes to School, the walking school bus is a national effort begun by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Last year, the city was given the grant money for the program and searched for the right school to start a pilot program. Pawnee Elementary School was chosen, in part because of the short distances that children had to travel and because the school itself does not have school bus service. They approached the school’s principal to ask for his participation last year. For whatever reason it was put on hold until this year. In an interview with this Digital Journalist, first-year Principal Justin Green said that he was approached this year and thought it was a wonderful idea.
Green then worked with the coordinator hired by the Safe Routes To School, Janice Bode. Ms. Bode oversees the program while Green does promotion within the school setting and provides the kids. Green and Bode took time to plan the start of the program making sure that there were enough adult volunteers to cover the children. By using morning announcements and PTA meetings that goal was met and on Monday complete with a clown on stilts the ‘walking school bus’ program was underway.
In 1969 it was very rare that a child would be suffering childhood obesity. That is not the case in today’s world. The childhood obesity rate has risen times higher than the 5 per cent figure in 1969.
Forty years ago almost half of all students used their legs to get to school. In 2008 only 16 per cent of students were still walking to school. It’s not just the kids fault today though. Parents have legitimate fears for allowing their children to make their way to school on their own. Traffic, crime, weather conditions and bullies are some of the concerns along with the sheer distance that some kids have to travel.
88 per cent of Pawnee Elementary students live within a 15 minute walk to school. Most parents though drive their kids to and from school. That has created problems with traffic, car exhausts and parking.
With five to 10 children on board the adult volunteers walk the children to school and back home again at the end of the school day. Green said he hopes the program grows but it will take more parents volunteering their time to do so.
“I think this program is great for the kids,” he said. “They can make friends while walking to school safely. Everyone is a winner with the program.”
Green also said because of the program there will be fewer cars on the roads, making it much safer for the children to walk to and from school.