The Walking Bus Keeps Kids Healthy on Their Way to School

Lynnwood, WA | January 2013 | By National Recreation and Park Association

The Walking Bus Keeps Kids Healthy on Their Way to School 410

How is it that more children at Lynnwood Elementary School are ‘taking the bus’, but the community has the strongest walk-to-school program in the state? That’s because it’s a walking bus, a series of pick-ups along the routes to school where children can join a supervised group to get to school. 

This innovative project started with a dynamic and influential physical education teacher. A class unit on “safe walking” introduced students to pedometers and children set goals to walk to specific destinations. With support from their classroom teacher the students continued to log their steps at recess. The Safe Walking unit was kicked off with National Walk to School Day in the fall. If streets are safe for walking, parents feel comfortable with their children walking to school.

The following spring, Lynnwood Elementary piloted a “walking school bus” for kids to walk to school and home together safely, with designated “drivers.” Vests, hand-held stop signs and whistles were purchased for the “drivers.” Routes, including points where children could be picked up on the bus, were established with help from the city’s public works department. For the pilot, the walking bus ran one day per week; in the fall, the school plans to run the walking bus more days and encourage more children to participate. 

With the Safe Routes to School program successfully established, infrastructure improvements are now underway on a block-long section of road bordering the school. The block has no sidewalks and is used as a cut-through between two busy roads. It is currently lined on each side with drainage ditches, making it unsafe for walking or biking. Improvements will include sidewalks, road striping, and bike lanes.

Lynnwood has been able to create a successful partnership with the school largely because the PE teacher and the principal, who are supporters of Safe Routes, gained the backing of other teachers and the parent-teacher association. The surrounding neighborhood has welcomed the project because sidewalks are desperately needed in the area. This is yet another example of the importance of leadership in implementing a culture change.

In the fall, Lynnwood Elementary plans to continue its walking program and add a focus on bicycle education, including bike rodeos and bike helmet education. The program goal is to see an increase in the number of students walking or biking to school over the next 18 months, and to gather measurable data on improvements in student health and behavior. 

Environmental improvements are also a piece of sustainability to keep kids out there by making the routes safe and walkable. The short-term plan is champions in the school. Long-term sustainability comes from seeing that success. In 2011, the team was awarded a $250,000 Safe Routes to School grant. Lynnwood’s proposal was ranked #1 in the state. The work of this enthusiastic collaborative will continue with the commitment and enthusiasm of local stakeholders.