Safe Routes to School coordinators at State Street School listened to parents while developing a program anchored by walking school buses that address worries about safety of children walking and bicycling to school.
Results from the locally administered parent survey showed that parents’ biggest barrier was fear of stranger danger and traffic speed, according to physical education teacher Donna Ewald, who spearheaded the SRTS effort. Creating walking school buses provided adult supervision for students walking to school.
Since 2006, the number of walking school buses at Green Street School in Brattleboro, Vermont, has more than tripled, thanks to parents’ steady support of Safe Routes to School.
“The biggest barrier we faced and still face is the culture of driving kids to school,” said Alice Charkes, SRTS coordinator for Green Street School and a high school French teacher. “Most folks think it’s faster to drive to school and more convenient.” She believes that is primarily a perception rather than a reality.
Three years ago Principal Edgar Miranda moved from Rochester, NY to Arlington, VA, and he rented a home in the neighborhood near Ashlawn Elementary School where he would work.
It wasn’t long before a first-grader asked him, “ ‘Can you walk with us to school?’ ” Miranda recalled. “How can you say no?”
He joined students in his neighborhood, and they walked to school together — unofficially.
Alexandria, VA, is a compact city with more than 128,000 residents living in a 15 square mile area. Many of the city’s 13 elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school have been encouraging walking and bicycling to school and working to increase safety around the schools for several years before the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program began in 2006.
The kindergarten through sixth grade students at Shelley Elementary School in American Fork, UT, have no bus system to take them to and from school.
The only buses available are intended for the pre-kindergarten students and those students in special education, which means the remainder of the student population, totaling 1,021 children, must walk, bicycle or carpool to school.
Alpine Elementary School, a K–6th grade school with 780 students, is part of Utah’s Alpine School District, the lowest funded school district in the nation. The primary barrier to walking to school had been traffic congestion, but that changed in 2008 when a man attempted to abduct a 6th-grade student on her way to school. The student successfully escaped and told an adult crossing guard what happened, but the fear from that incident created another hurdle to creating a Safe Routes to School program.