Students in Ellsworth and Norway have another way to get to school this spring. They are using the Walking School Bus, a program in which groups of local elementary school students join trained adult volunteers to walk as a group along particular routes to school. It’s a healthy, cost effective addition to a school transportation system that kids and their adult “bus drivers” also find fun. The program is supported by a partnership between the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, the Maine Safe Routes to School Program and the Maine Department of Transportation.
Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway and Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School are the two most recent recipients of grants from the Maine Walking School Bus Program to start daily walking school bus programs in their communities – see a recent Bangor Daily News article on the programs here. The 2-year grant provides resources to get the Walking School Bus (WSB) started in the communities so the program will continue after the grant is complete.
“Norway and Ellsworth have done a lot of related work in the past – walk and bike to school days, making sure students are taught bicycle and pedestrian safety, coming to previous Walking School Bus trainings we’ve held and working on improvements to sidewalks, crossings and other infrastructure in their communities. All of these help foster a successful Walking School Bus Program,” reported Darcy Whittemore, the Bicycle Coalition’s Central and Western Maine Safe Routes to School Coordinator.
In partnership with Coalition staff, the schools held WSB community workshops in February and the local support and enthusiasm for the program was impressive. Local partners for the program include school administrators, police, parent-teacher organizations, hospitals, school transportation directors, the YMCA, Rotary Clubs and other civic groups, a bank, and the local press. The WSB coordinators have been working hard since February to recruit and train volunteers and enlist students and families in the effort. Both communities launched their programs in late April.
David Norwood, the Physical Education teacher and WSB Coordinator in Ellsworth, shared, “We’re taking our time to build a strong local program and plan to grow the number of students and routes as we go. The Ellsworth community is really excited about this initiative and wants to see it succeed.” Both schools welcome community members to sign up online at walkingschoolbus.me/Ellsworth or walkingschoolbus.me/Norway to walk with students one morning a week. Volunteers are background-checked, then trained and placed with at least one other volunteer on a route.
“We had eight students registered before the first day,” reported Rebecca Powell, the Norway WSB Coordinator. “I thought, okay, we’ll start with that. But then as we walked the first morning, more and more students showed up on the route with their registration forms ready to walk with us. We ended up with 22 students – it was amazing!”
Portland’s East End Community School piloted a WSB program starting in 2013 and is now funded through the statewide Walking School Bus Program as well; it continues to be an excellent example of success. Interested communities will have another chance to apply to the program in fall 2015 (sign up to receive notice in the right-hand sidebar of this site!)