Wilmington — The School Committee unanimously approved a pilot for a walking school bus program to take place in June for the Woburn Street School after hearing a presentation from Woburn Street School Physical Education teacher Laura Stinson and Officer Brian Moon.
Starting in the fall of 2015, the Woburn Street School has been working on wellness for students and staff, and throughout last year’s school year and into this year, conversations have been had about the potential of offering a walking school bus program.
“With that, I had invited Officer Moon to come to one of our wellness team meetings, which we had at the end of February, and at which time he was gracious enough to say ‘yes, this sounds like a really great idea!’” said Stinson.
They contacted Massachusetts Safe Routes to School, and met with Tim Pettus who came to the Woburn Street School for a 40 minute long meeting in which he spoke of ways to look at doing a walking school bus program.
“For those of us who are not quite familiar with it, a walking school bus is simply that the children, instead of taking the actual school bus, will walk from their bus stop. In some instances we kind of collect children as we come to school, but for this particular endeavor, Officer Moon and I thought it would be much more beneficial for us to pick a specific route, a meeting place, and then begin our walk from there to the Woburn Street School,” explained Stinson.
“Being a part of the Wellness Advisory Council, which I absolutely loved this year, I love, love, the idea. A quick question though, is, are parents going to be dropping kids off at the start site? How is that going to happen?” asked School Committee member MJ Byrnes.
“We thought we’d pick a bus that normally drops off at the North School first, so those kids would get off and whomever does not want to participate would be removed and put on a bus that’s going to the school. The particular bus that we choose would pull out of the North, proceed to the designated drop off spot on Marcia Road, and then we would get the bus out and it would go on to its next run and we figured we would walk from there,” Moon answered.
“I think it’s a great idea. I mean, we all walked to school when we were little, in the snow with bare feet uphill both ways,” joked School Committee member Manny Mulas before asking about safety and traffic issues.
Moon explained that the reason they chose Marcia Road for the pilot is because it is not busy at that time of morning and it being a residential neighborhood. He also noted that there will be four officers, including himself, with two officers walking and one car in front and another in back so that anyone who may be on the road at the time would see the lights on.
Mulas then asked that with this being a pilot, what would be the goal.
Stinson noted that after the pilot takes place they would have to begin a much more comprehensive action plan.
“I believe we would survey parents to see if there is an interest in doing something like this, and then looking to see what route we might want to take, for example, we might look at doing a walking school bus along Woburn Street where we know in fact there are sidewalks, and we can pick up students, and then if there are parents who want their children to participate in that particular walking school bus event we can have designated drop off areas and then everybody can come into school together.
“So, again, it would take much more detailed orientation and specific planning and looking at the map and who will be in that particular area. Mass Safe Routes for Schools offers a program where they would actually come out and do some mapping and identify where children are in a potential route of walking to school. Working with the Mass Safe Routes folks and getting that identified, and then along with Officer Moon and the Police Department coordinating it very specifically and knowing exactly what it is that we’re asking and we’re going to do.”
She also noted that the students and parents wishing to participate would need to sign up so that the specific number of students walking would be known, as well as that they would be looking to have six students per one adult to keep the safety factor consistent.
“I know right now for the June pilot potential program I already have seven staff members from the Woburn Street School who are part of the wellness team and are going to be participating with us, with upwards of two additional people. Therefore, we might have nine teachers and 10 children and four police officers. I’m not quite sure, but, and I do believe that if we have this event this June, at the start of school in August or the beginning of September, we would begin the process of really, specifically, looking at how we might implement it so that it’s one, done safely, and two, the children themselves are gaining a great experience, a great social experience, as well as a physical activity and wellness piece,” she said.
Byrnes asked if the expectation was that this would be implemented in the other elementary schools.
Stinson said that would take a lot of time and planning to identify how that may happen in each of the schools and added.
“Eventually, I’d like to see, as you stated, doing it district wide, where each of the schools have a walking school bus day (maybe one in the fall and the spring), so it wouldn’t be something specific to every month or every week, but that it would be something that we would as a district be involved in.”
“So this isn’t something you would be looking to do on a daily basis. This would be something you would do once or twice a year, have them walk?” asked School Committee member Thomas Talbot.
Stinson said she would like to see it as more of an event where they identify specific schools on specific days.
“I would just say I love this idea,” said School Committee Chair Steve Bjork, who then asked whether the program would include every student in the school.
Moon noted that for the June pilot it would be just the one bus to see how it goes.
“I know that it would be wonderful if we could do it for all 412 students,” Stinson admitted, adding that it made more sense to start small.
She also described a stencil that is a fun part of the walking school bus program.
“We will receive, from the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School, a stencil where we’ll be able to have the children actually do a cutout of a school bus and we’ll mount it on some sticks so that we’ll be walking down the street with our walking school bus. They also provide us with some spray chalk, as well, so I’ve actually seen that very creative people have actually, for a few buses, used the chalk in the roadway.”
After the presentation, School Committee member Peggy Kane complimented Stinson, saying, “They love you, the kids love you so much, and you’re always coming up with new things and wonderful ideas for them to make health and phys ed. and everything so important to them.”