On the first Wednesday morning of the month, Mabry Elementary School students head out the door to catch the bus – a Walking School Bus, powered by the students themselves!
“Children are excited to see their friends; parents are excited to see their neighbors. We’re building a community and building a movement,” says Arianne Corbett, Mabry parent and creator of Mabry’s Walking School Bus (WSB).
Mabry’s WSB program features three “bus” routes starting from three different directions. Families walk or drive to their closest WSB starting point and proceed to the school in a group. The routes and starting times are publicized within the school and everyone is invited to participate, from the smallest kindergartener to the coolest 5th grader. Almost 200 students regularly walk on WSB days, 25% of the school population.
While the Mabry PTA’s Wellness committee designed this program with Mabry students’ health in mind, the results have been more extensive. “We have seen benefits on multiple levels. We started [the WSB] to increase physical activity for our students, but we’re also seeing this broader sense of community in the neighborhoods where the ‘buses’ travel,” Corbett says. Walking in a group also makes all of the children safer by creating a more visible presence in traffic, she adds.
Mabry’s model is similar to the Walking School Bus program advocated by the Safe Routes to School – a national initiative supported locally by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). Safe Routes to School is designed to help parents, school staff, and volunteers create a WSB in their communities.
Safe Routes to School suggests a couple of options for WSB projects. One design is similar to Mabry’s program: children and their parents walk together in a group along a designated route(s). A second plan depends on volunteers to meet children at a designated location and then guide the group to school – this option usually requires formal parental consent and volunteer training.
The WSB approach is distinct from other walk-to-school efforts in that it can cater to students whose distance from, or route to, school is prohibitive or dangerous. Mabry students, for example, can park at designated spots (a public park, a bank parking lot before business hours) and walk with the group.
Another benefit is higher visibility. Mabry students living south of the school must cross several very dangerous intersections to reach the school. A group of 50 children and their parents crossing Bay to Bay or Lois/Henderson or Manhattan will warrant greater attention from drivers than one child crossing alone.
Ready to follow Mabry’s lead and kickstart a WSB for your school community?
1. Choose your model. Parent-led or volunteer-led?
2. Secure parent or volunteer support to manage liability and risks.
3. Select starting points, being sure to scout for nearby parking. Parks and pre-hours businesses make good options.
4. Plan your route, considering signage, crosswalks, continuous sidewalks, and traffic patterns.
Safe Routes to School provides plenty of information for starting a WSB. Mabry can provide a model for how a WSB can work.
So… would you get on this bus?