“I’m excited about it,” said Evan Yoder, principal at Hillsboro Elementary School. “I think it will be a wonderful program if we can pull it off.”
He said he hopes it can be an option for families that had been using the in-town bus routes that were terminated by the district because of funding cuts.
Walking School Bus originated in Australia in April 2000, but is looking to expand its impact in the U.S., including Kansas, Yoder said. It has been endorsed by the state’s Safe Routes to School program.
Yoder heard about the program toward the end of the school year. He participated in a webinar, then indicated Hillsboro’s interest in participating. After filling out a formal application, Hillsboro was accepted, along with Beloit and Cheney.
The program works much like a traditional school bus route—minus the bus. In the morning, a volunteer adult supervisor begins the route at a designated point and time. Children—and parents, if they choose—meet the bus there, and together the group progresses to additional “bus stops” along the route to pick up more walkers.
Each adult and child is provided with reflective aids to contribute to their safety.
When school let’s out, the route is reversed and students are “dropped off” at the designated sites.
The walking school bus does not operate in inclement weather. Yoder said he will be the one to make that determination, and will inform families via the district’s automated notification system in time for parents to make alternative transportation arrangements.
Volunteers are key
Though Yoder said he has more to learn about the program, one thing is already clear: “Volunteers are key to the program’s success,” he said.
The program recommends one adult for every three children who are between 4 and 6 years old and one adult for every six children age 7-9; fewer adults are needed for children age 10 and older.
“Any adult volunteer can volunteer to walk a portion of the route with the kids,” Yoder said. “The program will die if we can’t get volunteers.”
Helping to organize the program and find those volunteers are two newly appointed co-coordinators: Eileen Butler and Brenda Kimberly.
The grant designates $2,000 as a stipend for their work—sharing $500 their first year and $1,500 the second year.
Getting the program off the ground will take time. Yoder has targeted Aug. 31 for the Walking School Bus orientation workshop that is required of each participating community.
“I’d encourage anyone who wants to learn more about it, or be a part of this, to join us,” Yoder said.
Meanwhile, Yoder, Butler and Kimberly will be working to recruit volunteers and inform families of the new program.