Walking School Bus group aims for pilot test this fall



USD 410 leaders said Friday that they hope to initiate a limited test run of its new Walking School Bus program sometime next month.

The decision came Friday during a day-long workshop orienting school and city leaders to the program that has adult volunteers ?picking up? and ?dropping off? students along a prescribed route as they walk to school.

Leading the workshop was Robert Johnson, director of consulting services for PedNet Coalition of Columbia, Mo.

Representing the city were Police Chief Dan Kinning, Mayor Delores Dalke and council members Byron McCarty and Bob Watson.

Representing USD 410 were Superintendent Steve Noble, elementary school principal Evan Yoder, as well as Eileen Butler and Brenda Kimberley, who have agreed to co-coordinate the program.

Also participating was Sondra Mayfield, representing Safe Kids Marion County.

Last month, Hillsboro was one of three communities in Kansas chosen to share grant funds for two years totaling $24,575 to be part of the relatively new and innovative program that offers at least three benefits:

? providing young students with supervised transportation to and from school;

? reducing danger caused by vehicle congestion around school grounds;

? helping to improve student health through exercise.

Johnson, who covered topics ranging from organizing to promoting the program, said a recent study indicates that children who participate in Walking School Bus do better in school.

Walkers were shown to increase their reading level by 26.5 percent compared with 4.8 percent for non-walkers, and writing scores were slightly higher, too.

Johnson said teachers report that student discipline improves, too.

?Kids who participated were calmer, better behaved and had fewer referrals during that first 45 minutes of school,? he said.

Johnson emphasized the value of making sure the program is operating efficiently before implementing it fully.

Normally, he said, he recommends a full year of planning before launching the program, which would mean August 2013 for USD 410.

But, considering the work the district already has invested in the project, Johnson invited school representatives to consider a limited pilot project this fall with the goal of fully implementing the program this spring when the weather warms.

The group informally accepted Johnson?s challenge.

The workshop ended with a walking survey of potential route paths.

School leaders said their goal was not just to establish a new program, but to ?change the culture? regarding the way students and parents think about transportation to and from school?from riding in a car to walking or biking.

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