Unique Walking School Bus Paves the Way for Similar Programs

By: Marc Caswell, LCI and Hannah Day-Kapell, Alta Planning + Design

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Alta Planning + Design teamed with non-profit Amigos de los Rios to implement a unique walking program that addressed public health, safety, and environmental sustainability, as well as economic stability in El Monte, CA. After a full year of daily walking school bus trips, we can confidently say that the program built community, supported families, and offered a safe way for students to get to school together.

A walking school bus (WSB) is an organized group of students who walk to and from school with adults. The WSB has a designated route and stops where students gather or get dropped‐off near their homes. They’re a great way for students to get daily physical activity, learn how to be “Safe Walkers,” gain confidence exploring their communities, and protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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Alta developed the structure, outreach materials, and tracking forms for a unique walking school bus model. We also hired 12 caregivers (parents & grandparents) to serve as route leaders to help students on the walk to Durfee School beginning in 2017.

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Throughout the school year, Alta and Amigos de los Rios educated and encouraged the diverse El Monte community to participate in the program with materials in Spanish, English, and Vietnamese. The team demonstrated that walking school buses are safe through inspirational videos and community events, one in which community members painted a mural at the school in order to create awareness and motivate walkers.

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One of the biggest successes was the “Step Into Spring” walking contest. Throughout April, each student who joined a walking school bus placed a leaf on the “Step into Spring” poster — a tree that symbolized springtime and the environmental benefits of walking. Each week, the Principal recognized the route with the most students. As a result, April experienced a surge in walkers in both the morning and afternoon, indicating that the competition successfully increased visibility.

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The project was a great opportunity to test materials, gather data, and learn key lessons to help establish similar programs at other schools in the district and beyond. And, after a year of the WSB in motion, there have been zero incidents, setting a precedent for the WSB model. Over the course of the year, students walked 22,989.42 miles on six different routes with an average of 68 walkers participating every day. In addition, an estimated 912 gallons of gas and 8.1 metric tons of CO2 emissions were saved.

Interested in starting a WSB in your community? Visit the Walk El Monte website for tips on how to get started.

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