Wharton, has found the borough “very supportive of the program.” The principal, superintendent and the police have helped create the program by identifying safe routes to walk and by getting the word out to the community.
Barriers & Opportunities
1. Liability concerns
Many people starting Walking School Bus programs cite overcoming liability concerns as a significant barrier to getting programs off the ground. There are several ways liability can be addressed. Jim Crane of Ridewise TMA helps lead the Somerville Walking School Bus program and recommends keeping it as an informal, volunteer-based program as a way to reduce liability factors. Rosters are used to check that all students are present and that none have been left behind. In addition, parents are asked to sign release forms allowing their children to participate. In Highland Park, parents who volunteer to lead a walking school bus are eligible for insurance coverage from the town. Crane feels that some of the liability issues for the program are overblown. “Kids have been walking since they’ve been going to school,” he said. “It’s safer to have a program that addresses safety issues than not addressing them at all.”
2. Keeping volunteers
Organizers in both Somerville and Highland Park have found that keeping parents involved is vital in making the program a success. Flyers and on-line surveys can be helpful—to communicate to parents and to get their feedback. Active recruitment by the principal can be crucial. In Highland Park, organizers have divided into four districts or neighborhoods, with lead coordinators taking on the role of communicating to parents operating each route.
3. Benefits (and drawbacks) to formalizing a Walking School Bus
With a formalized program, rules, backup