The rate that children walk or ride a bicycle to school is dropping at the same time obesity rates are increasing. A way to address that concern is to support walking school bus programs. These programs encourage more kids to walk and bicycle to school by coordinating the trip to school as a group and using adult supervision. A walking school bus is much like its mechanized counterpart. Instead of being driven, children walk or bike to school as a group with adult supervision.
Walking school bus programs can be formal programs coordinated by the school or community. Formal programs tend to establish routes with designated stops and volunteers are scheduled to lead the effort. Informal programs are often run by parents or neighbors. These tend to be limited to a few students who walk a similar route to school and may involve several families from the same neighborhood. The common elements of walking school bus programs include: an adult supervisor, a group of children, a safe walkway to school and a pickup/drop-off time.
Tips for Success
- Walking school bus routes and crossings need to be planned very carefully. Traffic and personal safety need to be considered.
- Ensure the bus is appropriately sized. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 1 adult for every 6 children. One adult can walk with more kids who are over 10 years of age. For 4-6 year olds, 1 adult for every 3 children is advised.
- Start small. Try a one-day, walk to school event to build excitement.
- Train volunteers and students on rules and basic safety.
- Perform a background check on volunteers.
Walking School Bus Programs in Iowa are promoted by the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, Iowans Fit for Life, Iowa Safe Routes to School and the Iowa Blue Zones Project. A guide to start a program in your community is available here. In addition, the Iowa Bicycle Coalition has staff available to help communities plan and launch programs.
Information provided by the Iowa Bicycle Coalition.