Safe Routes Scoop
Get on the Walking Bus

County’s communities have generated excitement about the program with a walking mascot and walking song. The main challenge has been to overcome parents’ familiarity with and perceived ease of dropping their kids off at school by car. Hudson County TMA works to counter this practice by showing parents the carbon footprint created by driving to school. Many are surprised by the amount of pollution generated during such a short trip and choose to walk to school with their children as a result. “Parents are often prone to go for the car keys,” said DiDomenico. “As part of the program, we remind parents that in driving their child, children are not learning the required judgment to cross the street. Walking your child to school is one of the best and unique opportunities to spend quality time with your child.”

 

In Somerset County, about 200 students take part daily in the Walking School Bus program at Somerville’s Van Derveer Elementary School. Established in 2005, the school’s program has become a model for other communities in New Jersey. RideWise TMA, Van Derveer’s principal and parent volunteers have worked together to map routes and develop a schedule for walking to various stops en route. Organizers took about four weeks to plan and implement the program. Building on the success at Van Derveer, RideWise TMA has brought the program to other schools in the county. Further information on the Somerville Walking School Bus can be found at: http://www.state.nj.us/

transportation/community/srts/pdf/

ss_somerville.pdf

 

In Middlesex County, Highland Park’s Bartle Elementary School recently kicked off its Walking School Bus program with about 40 students. Efforts to create the program began as part of the borough’s Mayors Wellness Campaign, a statewide

program to encourage healthy living. The program coordinator, Colleen McKay

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

 

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