Can empty school buses be a good thing?
Earlier this week in Danbury, many school buses were empty as a result of 419 students and 119 volunteers from Park Avenue, South Street and Ellsworth Avenue Elementary Schools participating in Walk to School Day.
To highlight the benefits of walking to school, a coalition of community partners planned a “Walking School Bus” for students. What they have found is that walking to school not only promotes a healthy dose of daily exercise but provides the added benefit of learning social skills, building relationships, and decreasing absenteeism.
“I loved seeing the excitement the kids had just from having the opportunity to walk together to school.
Of course, they’re happy to be going to school when they can do it with friends,” said Maureen Farrell, MPH, RD, Director of Community Wellness at the Regional YMCA of Western Connecticut. “This event is possible because we have a safe community. The Walking School Bus encourages the daily exercise of walking in addition to increasing school spirit because kids walk to school with their teachers, peers and principals.”
All three principals, many teachers and City of Danbury employees were present alongside the students; leading by example. The support from the community including the Jericho Partnership and West Side Middle School was overwhelming and appreciated.
“The success of the event was due in large part to the outreach made by the Coalition for Healthy Kids members who organized it, especially teachers and staff in the schools that helped promote getting excited to participate in the Walking School Bus.” said Farrell. “We are so grateful also to the Danbury Police Officers, Western CT State University Police Officers and Danbury Public School Crossing Guards who ensured the safety of our children as they crossed the street.”
A spin-off of this Walking Event is the UWWC support, of established regular walking school bus routes at Park Avenue School. Parents have been spearheading the effort, with coordination by the outreach worker since May of 2017.
Walking School Buses have been used in other communities across the state and the nation, not just to promote exercise, but to improve school attendance. For instance, if a mother has a sick infant, she may not be able to get her school-age child to the bus or drive her child to school. But if a neighbor stops by the house as part of the walking school bus, the child can get safely to school without the mother ever leaving the house.
The event was co-sponsored by the Coalition for Healthy Kids (CHK), Regional YMCA of Western CT,
Danbury Public Schools (DPS) and United Way of Western Connecticut (UWWC), City of Danbury and Cornell Memorial Home. To learn more about the Walking School Bus concept, go to walkbiketoschool.org or visit the National Safe Routes to School website at saferoutesinfo.org.