Did you know there’s an activity that can improve your child’s energy, concentration, self-esteem, memory, and creativity while you and your child have a great time doing it? It’s called the Walking School Bus! It’s not really a bus that walks but rather a weekly gathering of schoolchildren and volunteer parents that walk to school the old-fashioned way. The Walking School Bus I helped to start at Maitland’s Lake Sybelia Elementary School in the fall of 2011 has helped to get kids and their parents physically active, teach valuable safety lessons, and create new friendships.
Children and parent “bus leaders” meet at designated “bus stop” starting points and walk a planned route to school that “picks up” additional walkers and parent volunteers along the way. It takes around 20 to 30 minutes to “ride” the Walking School Bus. For Lake Sybelia Elementary walkers, Wednesday is Walking School Bus day. One Walking School Bus route starts at Homer Hough Park while another begins at the corner of Packwood and Central avenues. If you drive by at the right time, you may have seen a LSE Walking School Bus full of happy walkers that occasionally break into song and dance!
The Walking School Bus has been popular in Europe and was implemented in the United States to help combat obesity in children. It is estimated that there are approximately four times as many overweight children today as there were 25 years ago. Additionally, only 15 percent of children walk to school these days while twice as many walked a quarter of a century ago. Children who join the bus increase their physical activity and improve their health.
Safety is a vital concern for parents, and the Walking School Bus teaches children safe walking skills. Parent volunteers act as the “drivers” of the bus in supervising children to walk safely near traffic and be aware of their surroundings. On the way to school, we teach traffic safety and follow all traffic rules. Parents who want to volunteer to be a bus leader need to be an ADDITION volunteer with Orange County Public Schools, which requires a background check.
A perk of the program is that parents who need to get to work may drop off their children at the Walking School Bus where the kids will be supervised by responsible parents. The students have a wonderful time socializing and being active on the way to school. This is also a time to teach children to get along with their friends. Walking through neighborhoods, and observing nature gives both students and parent volunteers a true sense of community. Parents become friends with other parents and get to know other students. The experience gives participants a sense of community among the school as well.
“Start your day the healthy way, and hop on the Walking School Bus!” was an expression coined by Dr. Julie Paradise, the principal of Lake Sybelia when the program first started in 2011. The children who have hopped on the bus since that time have reaped the benefits of being physically fit, safety aware, and having some new walking buddies.