By Kristen Albert, Corinth Elementary School nurse and walking school bus organizer
In spring 2012, I received an email about a walking school bus program in our school district, and I took an interest because our school, Corinth Elementary, is located on a busy intersection with some safety concerns for students heading to school.
As a school nurse, my secondary goal was to generate enthusiasm among the students and increase the number of children walking to school. Few children still walk or bike to school. I wanted to revive that daily exercise, while ensuring safety along the way.
Johnson County Health Department, Safe Routes to School and the Safe Kids Coalition were instrumental in getting us started.
Parents attended a walking school bus meeting in early fall 2012. We evaluated parent surveys and assessed where our needs and concerns were with the safety issue. We also needed to secure volunteers.
We offered three starting locations so the majority of our student population would have close access to a walking school bus along their usual route. Parent volunteers, Fed Ex employee volunteers, City of Leawood administrators, and even responsible sixth grade students helped lead the buses throughout the year.
We kicked off the program on Oct. 3, 2012, which was also National Walk to School day.
We started small with ‘Walking Wednesdays’ every other week for a total of six days in the first semester. The walking school bus received local publicity and word spread about our success.
We had more than 300 Corinth students, along with 20-plus parent volunteers, walk and bike to school that first day! Volunteers greeted them as they arrived at school with balloons, noise makers, and a raffle ticket for a prize drawing.
The tickets were collected and counted for each class and then raffled at the end of the day. Eight winners received gift certificates to local vendors like Great Harvest, Mely’s Yogurt & Ice Cream, and Bike Source.
Throughout the year, different colored leaves on the ‘leaf tree’ in the front hallway were updated with class totals so the students could see which classes were winning.
These incentives encouraged participation. We continued to average around 200-300 walkers each Wednesday.
The safety and walkability factor is still a work in progress and the City of Leawood and Prairie Village are investigating the problem areas. The sidewalk along 83rd Street (80 percent of the students use this route to walk to school) narrows and makes walking unsafe because of its proximity to oncoming traffic traveling at high speeds.
A group of PTA parents have branched off from the walking school bus program, and have taken on the “83rd Street repair/renovation” project. We are exploring grant opportunities and are hopeful that changes will eventually be made. We are proud that the implementation of the walking school bus program has helped initiate repair and renovation goals.
For the 2013 spring semester, we replaced the raffle drawing and prizes with a plastic key chain, which listed the remaining dates. Each student on the walking school bus received a key chain and would get a sticker for the dates participated. Students that participated in all four Wednesdays received water bottles donated by Children’s Mercy.
Also this spring, the PTA sponsored a bike/pedestrian safety assembly. We wanted the kids to be educated about traffic laws, safety with signals, signs, and always wearing a good fitting bike helmet.
It has been so much fun to see the kids get excited about our Walking Wednesdays and to see the participation rates increase!