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Tips for Parent-Led Walking School Buses from Ocean Avenue Elementary in Portland

Start Your Own Neighborhood Walking School Bus!

Photo from WSB videoMeet the Ocean Avenue Elementary School Neighborhood Walking School Bus!  Walking every day throughout the year, families in one of this Portland school’s neighborhoods have organized a daily Walking School Bus that walks up to 8 children to the Ocean Avenue Elementary School, approximately ½ mile away.  Entering its fourth year, this Walking School Bus has an almost perfect record despite rain, wind and snow.  Taking less than an hour for parents to organize at the start of the school year, this bus has been a huge time-saver for families – and the kids love walking together (click on image at right to see local news video)!

The Ocean Avenue Neighborhood’s Tips for Quick and Easy Walking School Bus Organization

  1. Bus Drivers/Walk Leaders: Five families living in the same neighborhood area commit to “driving the bus” (acting as adult Walk Leaders) one day a week throughout the year.  Other families are “floaters” or substitutes as needed.  Parents choose the day that works best for their schedule.  If you don’t have 5 families able to participate, parent Walk Leaders can take on more than one day a week.   If your group of walkers is larger than 8, you will want to double-up and have two parent Walk Leaders each morning to ensure the safety of the larger sized group.
  1. The Route: Determine the safest route to school.  Assess sidewalk and crossing locations, crossing guards, etc., to come up with the safest route.  This route should not change no matter who is walking with the Walking School Bus.
  1. Bus Stops:Define a starting Walking School Bus stop and departure time, as well as any other bus stops and times based on the families participating.  The Walk Leader should arrive at the starting bus stop 5 minutes before the walking bus is scheduled to depart.  Just like a regular school bus, the children at the stop are officially “on the bus”.  The Walk Leader heads the group and makes any other stops (in the case of the Ocean Avenue Elementary neighborhood, there are three stops) to pick up waiting children along the designated route.  Walk Leaders swap days as needed but are responsible for getting their own substitutes.
  1. Planning Tip: Take a test walk before the first day of school with all the children and parent Walk Leaders.  Make sure everyone is on the same page with the route, bus stop locations and schedule.
    Safety Information: During the Test Walk hand out Be A Safe Walker safety sheets to parents and kids – and review safe walking and bus rules and expectations on the first walk.  For example, the Ocean Avenue Neighborhood Bus has the following rules: “walk as a group, wait at every street crossing and cross together, wait one giant step back from the curb, and no running ahead”.
  1. Communications: Communicate the Walk Leaders’ schedule, bus stop times, rules and expectations via an organizing email with all families before the start of school.  It is important for Walk Leaders to be consistent with the schedule, route and rules so children have the same expectations and experience no matter who is the Walk Leader.  (Also share cell phone numbers!  Mornings are hectic, a parent may need a substitute driver at the last minute, so make sure all parents have each other’s phone numbers.)
  1. Enjoy the walk! As the Ocean Avenue Neighborhood Walking School Bus has found, these walks are social – not just for kids but for parents, too.  Many parents choose to walk more days just because it’s a nice way to start the day.
  1. Optional: This year, the Ocean Avenue Neighborhood Bus added on an optional Bike Train (see guide here), which runs two days a week in the fall and spring. The Walking School Bus continues to run every day, and two days a week a bicycling parent leads any student bikers to school.
  1. Celebrate! The Ocean Avenue Neighborhood Walking School Bus held a Walking School Bus BBQ to celebrate the group’s success of making it through a whole school year.  This is a great way to celebrate walking!

If you or families you know live within one mile of your community school and have a sidewalk network, what about trying to encourage a parent-led Walking School Bus?  Informal walking school buses and bicycle trains are easy to start and we can help you think through the possibilities for your community!  And if you already have a local Walking School Bus up and running, please contact us with your local stories, too.