In Hillsboro, it is not uncommon in the fall and spring to see a long line of children walking down Grand Ave in the morning before school. They are almost always led by Evan Yoder, the elementary school principal and many are wearing bright orange vests.
The line is the walking school bus and it runs from one side of town to the other. Some of the kids start out at the meeting point while others jump in along the way.
“This is probably our seventh year of it. It started when I saw an email for a grant for a walking school bus. They were trying to get a group of schools started in Kansas, and they were going to pick three schools and give them $500 yearly for three years. I applied for it and we got it,” said Yoder.
As a result, a professional came out and met with then Superintendent Steve Noble, Yoder and the police department to train and figure out the best route in the city.
“It was about the same time that the city was trying to get the grant to improve the sidewalks on Grand. They said that as part of that grant, getting the walking school bus grant was a big deal so I wrote something for the city. We ended up getting both grants.”
The route chosen was a mile that runs from Trinity Church on the east side of town to the school on the west side of town.
For many it gives them a chance to get to school safely and early since parents can trust they will be supervised. And it gives all a chance to get some exercise in for the day.
“The walking school bus is a chance to open the beginning world of let’s get some exercise right away. I think in most people’s busy lives, if you can get something done in the morning , before the day starts, that’s probably the best shot of getting stuff in. It develops that mind set that this is important to live a long, healthy life,” said Yoder. “The visibility of it all also makes it clear to people seeing us walking that you need to be careful with little kids out.”
The walking school bus runs the first nine weeks of school and then again the last nine weeks as long as the weather is decent.
Yoder has led the bus the entire time and he sees that it is important for him to personally participate and lead the kids.
“I talked to other schools, and they stopped once the grant was over. They didn’t have leadership to keep them going. I know that with me doing it, it keeps it going. I haven’t missed one yet this Fall,” said Yoder. “Maybe if the kids seeing me doing it, they will think exercise is important and they will do it, too. Maybe years from now they will remember when that old guy used to walk them!”
But he also is quick to credit others.
“Charlene Driggers goes almost every morning and has for years. And we have others jumping in and helping as well,” said Yoder. “We have had different athletic teams from the high school and Tabor.”
His wife Becky often helps, too.
The kids seem to enjoy it as well. They are often smiling and laughing and chatting as they head to school.
Talia Jost, sixth grade, did it for all of her elementary years. She still participates often even though she is now at the middle school. She simply turns off and goes in since the school is on the way to the elementary.
“It’s a fun experience to walk to school with friends and sometimes family. Most days, I would rather walk to school than ride to school,” said Jost.
Last Wednesday, the bus had a big turn out as students were encouraged to join in and celebrate National Walk to School Day (the actual day was a few weeks earlier, but rain had forced a delay in carrying it out in Hillsboro). In addition to the normal walkers and volunteers, more kids, parents and even current Superintendent Max Heinrichs joined in on the fun.
Once kids got to the school, they were greeted by Marion County Childcare Surveyor and Safe Kids Coordinator Erin Hein. Hein and Yoder then handed out granola bars, juice boxes and other goodies from the Marion County Health Department.
“Walk to School Day is a great way for both students and parents to get involved in walking to school together and learning about pedestrian safety,” said Hein.
The walking school bus is now over for the fall, but it will resume again in the spring.