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A walking school bus is a fun and environmentally effective way to get kids to school in the morning. It’s certainly safer for kids who would otherwise walk alone to school, and may be very effective when there are multiple children in a neighborhood close to school. Instead of providing a school bus to bus children short distances, parent groups or even neighborhood groups may decide to have several adults assigned to walk to school with groups of children that live nearby. It provides exercise and security without debt to the environment.
For a walking school bus to be effective you need to have an adequate number of children that live nearby, and a large enough group of parents or volunteers that will help supervise children. Suggestions vary as to how many parents should supervise a certain amount of kids. Some people suggest that a varied age group of children should have one adult per six kids, but that if most of the children are kindergarten age or younger, supervision might be best at one adult to no more than four kids.
The parent supervisors “drive the bus” by collecting kids at designated stops, and you may need to establish rules about just how long you can wait at a particular stop if a child doesn’t emerge quickly. The route needs to be carefully planned so that all kids get picked up in a pattern that makes sense, or sometimes, parents of each kid are asked to bring them to a street corner or location en route so that stops are short. It’s sort of like a carpool without the car, since parent supervisors can take turns being the “drivers.”
In some neighborhoods, a walking school bus is very effective because there are a lot of children needing to get to school. Apartment complexes and condo complexes may also be ideally suited for this form of transportation since it’s easy to get from house to house without adding to much to the length of a trip to school. Other times, walking school buses fail to work because a district is very large, many children attending a particular school don’t live nearby, or the traffic is so difficult it is safer to drive.
The best way to decide if establishing a walking school bus is practical in your neighborhood may be to address the issue at a parent organization or PTA meeting. Alternately, if you are close with neighbors who have children around your age, you can bring up starting a walking school bus with neighbors. It also may be more comfortable to be the driver with kids you know well at first, though this may depend on a variety of factors.
As you’re laying out plans to organize a walking school bus, have people check routes and decide how far the first child who is picked up has to walk. You’ll need to walk routes, decide what is realistic, and try to plan a route that is both safe and short. If a child lives outside your route, you could encourage another group of parents to start another “bus.” You’ll also want to decide what to do in cases of really bad weather or if a parent driver can’t show up; for instance your bus could easily become a carpool route if the weather is particularly stormy.