'Walking school bus' makes a trial run at three Janesville elementary schools

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Thursday, June 3, 2010
— If you’re not sure your idea will work, you set up a trial run.

That’s what happened Wednesday at three Janesville elementary schools.

The schools tried out the idea of a “walking school bus.”

A walking school bus is a group of children guided by adults. The group heads off down the sidewalk. As kids near their homes, they peel off down the side streets, and the group keeps on walking until everyone has left the “bus.”

“Boys and girls, we’re going to walk together, and some of us are going all the way to the Kwik Trip,” announced Adams School Principal Kitty Grant, over her bullhorn as her “bus” left the school shortly after school let out.

“When we get to your house, be sure to tell us,” Grant continued. “And remember, it’s all about fitness.”

Grant said she wanted to see for herself how the “bus” would work.

Several of the kids said they usually get rides home, but they liked walking.

Others didn’t.

“I’d rather ride in a car, primarily because right now, my backpack is extremely heavy,” said third-grader Gareth Vang before the group lost sight of the school.

“It’s just not my nature, said fourth-grader Xavier Ripp. “Me and my brother just walk by ourselves.”

Most kids, however, seemed to get into the spirit.

“I like walking home. I get more exercise, and I can enjoy the fresh air,” said fourth-grader Stephanie Vogt.

Kids talked and joked and behaved themselves throughout the walk, letting the adults take charge of navigating street crossings.

The trial run at Adams School seemed to work well, but it was under optimal conditions: Sunny skies, three adults for 17 children, and the novelty of a new adventure kids could focus on.

Madison and Monroe schools also participated.

Grant said afterwards there are bugs to be worked out, but she seemed enthused at the prospect of handing the bus’s steering wheel over to volunteer parents.

“I think there’s some potential,” Grant said, “but I think parents are going to want to feel their children are safely crossed at every intersection.”

One problem is Memorial Drive.

Grant’s group headed down Memorial and crossed Milton Avenue with a crossing guard. The group stayed on the same side of the street for kids who lived on that side, but then they had to cross.

Memorial Drive has a 25 mph speed limit at that point, but 40 mph is normal as cars head downhill to the bridge.

The group waited for a break in the rush-hour traffic.

“Fast, fast, fast, kids … but no running!” said Adams aide Betsy Heimlich as the group bolted across the four lanes.

The reason for a walking school bus is to get more kids to walk to school. Today, most ride, with resulting traffic headaches and car exhaust around schools, not to mention the loss of a chance for exercise.

Parents fear exposing their children to strangers and bullies, a local survey showed, and they fear traffic and dangerous intersections.

Ironically, parents driving to school increase the traffic, Grant noted.

“If we can reduce traffic around the school, it will be safer for children,” Grant said.

The entire walk from the school gym to the Kwik Trip took 22 minutes. Grant figured a parent would have to volunteer just a half hour.

Grant likened the idea to the school’s breakfast club: “That program is fabulous because we have committed volunteers who come each week.”

Grant will ask for volunteers at the orientation day in August.

Terry Nolan, city associate planner who guided the effort, said she hopes for another walking school bus day next fall at the same three schools.

Last updated: 2:12 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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