Students ride the walking school bus

September 3, 2008 7:00:34 AM PDT
There's a brand new type of school bus in the East Bay and you've never seen one like it. It has no seats and no engine, but still takes a dozen children to school each day. It's the greenest, healthiest possible way to get children from home, to school. It's called the walking school bus, and it's powered by dozens of feet, very small feet.

As the name 'walking school bus' implies, it's a group of children, walking to school together, stopping to pick up schoolmates, making like a school bus. Mom Tina Sullivan is the walking school bus leader for a group of students at the Marshall Elementary School in Castro Valley, but says she is not in charge here.

"I put them in charge and have a front walker and a rear walker. They take the job seriously. Nobody in front of the front walker, no one behind the rear," said Sullivan.

Alameda County, with help from the federal government, is driving this program, so to speak. Nora Cody is the Director of the Alameda County Safe Routes to School program.

"We're trying to encourage more kids and families to walk, bike, scooter and skateboard to school. It means fewer cars, reduces pollution and the air around the school is so much healthier when we don't have cars driving up," said Cody.

And fewer cars means, improved safety, the main concern of parents.

A survey in Alameda County found that the two top reasons why parents don't want their children walking to school are: one, they don't want them walking alone, and two, even if they walk with a friend, they're too young. The walking school bus takes care of both of those issues.

"We give them pedestrian safety training, role playing, walk some routes, go over maps and have parents choose good routes for them. We give them reflective vests, stop signs whistles and first aid kits," said Cody.

But no amount of training could have put this program to the test, as much as something that happened last year.

"We saw a cat get hit in the road and there was this cat flopping around, but my kids were so good. I said 'everybody stay to the right.' The cat came to rest at the curb. I said 'the cat needs to rest, so please look up at the tree and stay single file,' and they listened," said Sullivan.

Not everybody has 12 children on their walking school bus, some just two or three. But for those parents who have the time to be a walking school bus leader, there are rewards.

"You feel great about it, and it's helped me out a lot too - I lost a few pounds," said Cody.

And that's something that wouldn't happen riding a traditional school bus. With 16 percent of children deemed obese by the Centers for Disease Control, and fewer children exercising - some feel we can't afford to miss this bus.


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