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Collaborating with AAA Safety Patrol to Help Lead the Walking School Bus

Written by Sarah Cushman, Southern Maine Planner (consultant) for the Maine Safe Routes to School Program

We had a great meeting today with AAA of Northern New England and their National Office to discuss a possible pilot collaboration between the long-standing and classic AAA School Safety Patrol and our efforts to develop a student walk leader program within our Maine Walking School Bus Program.  With upper elementary students showing and seeking leadership roles within the Walking School Bus, and with the on-going need for additional volunteer walk leader help as our daily Walking School Bus routes grow, this could feed two birds with one seed.

AAA NNE & WSB 123114

L-R: Dan Goodman, AAA NNE; Maddy Ray, East End Community School Walking School Bus Coordinator; Sarah Cushman, Southern Maine Planner (consultant) for the Safe Routes to School Program. Maddy & Sarah pictured with AAA’s School Safety Patrol sashes and badges that are worn by student patrolers.

I and Maddy Ray, the East End Community School Walking School Bus Coordinator here in Portland, met with AAA of Northern New England’s Pat Moody, Manager of Public Affairs, and Dan Goodman, their new Traffic Safety Specialist (Note: this is the same great Dan Goodman formerly of Go Maine and the Regional Transportation Program (RTP).)  The meeting also included Jennifer Huebner Davidson, the Manager of Traffic Safety Advocacy at the AAA National Office (via phone).

We led folks through the ins and outs of our daily school-run Walking School Bus program here in Portland and also what is unfolding across the state. Then Jennifer shared her knowledge and perspective from working with the thousands of schools across the country with active AAA School Safety Patrol programs (currently there are 635,000 student Patrolers!) for how we could utilize the existing AAA program structure to implement a hybrid student walk leader program for our local students.

Within our local program we carry the desire both to do authentic youth engagement and to meet our primary goal to improve safety. So we’ve been living with the question of how to clearly define the role of our future student walk leaders.  I.e., what would student leaders be permitted to do and not permitted to do – to keep kids safe on the walk to school?  We’ve been seeking input both from the students, adult program management, and consulting with other folks involved with Safe Routes to School around the country – but it was a real boon to hear Jennifer’s broad insight and clear-cut answers.  In turn, she was excited about this potential pilot hybridization and offered ongoing guidance as we proceed to explore it.  Pat and Dan have been very supportive as well – having brought Jennifer in as a resource after we approached them and also offering local AAA technical assistance, diverse connections, and School Safety Patrol materials as we proceed.

We’ve got work to do to develop the program and implement it (we’re hoping to pilot it in Spring 2015) but we’ve found some more friends to walk with us along the way.  It’s an exciting time!

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.

Maine Safe Routes to School Profiled in Upcoming Webinar! 

Recruiting and Training Volunteers for Long Term Success
Thursday, May 15, 2-3pm

[Editor’s note on archived webinar: Listen to an audio recording here. (Please note the visual portion isn’t correct due to technical difficulties, but you can hear the full audio at this link and refer to the slides below.)  View PowerPoint slides: Kelli Huinkler, Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health – slides; Sonia Campos, Volunteers of America Greater Los Angeles – slides; Sarah Cushman, Safe Routes to School Maine – slides.] 

On Thursday, May 15th, from 2-3 p.m., the Safe Routes to School National Partnership is hosting a free webinar on Recruiting and Training Volunteers for Long Term Success.

Our very own Sarah Cushman, Southern Maine Planner for Maine Safe Routes to School, will be one of the presenters – talking specifically about successes and lessons learned through the Portland Walking School Bus Program! This webinar is one of a two-part series that will explore tried-and-true methods for working with volunteers in Safe Routes to School programs and other school-based volunteer initiatives.

Join in to hear Sarah and the other speakers discuss the ways they have recruited and trained volunteers and created sustainable, long-lasting relationships within their schools and communities.

Portland Walking School Bus Program Launches This Month!

Portland Walking School Bus Program logoA comprehensive collaboration between the Portland Public Schools and the Maine Safe Routes to School Program, the Portland Walking School Bus Program will launch at the East End and Reiche Elementary Schools in Portland this month!  The program aims to offer a reliable and safe transportation system for school children and their families on a daily basis.  The Portland Walking School Bus initiative connects students and their families with trained adult leaders so they can experience a fun and safe group walk to school along designated routes.  See this extensive article which describes in detail how this program will work.  We’ll report back with more news as the initiative takes off!

Celebrating the Success of Our Walking School Bus Workshops!

WSB Workshop route mapping exercise in PortlandWith great success and thanks to all the participants, Maine Safe Routes to School Program staff convened the nationally-recognized Walking School Bus Program Workshop for the Portland Public Schools on November 6th – and a regional version of the workshop in Augusta for interested communities from across the state on November 7th.  These dynamic workshops, delivered by the PedNet Coalition, over-viewed how daily Walking School Bus programs work best, addressed liability and safety issues, outlined tasks and timelines for getting a program started – including marketing, demonstrated how to do a walking audit for prospective routes, and offered practice with planning routes (as seen in the photo above).

In Portland, the workshop was an essential component for jump-starting the pilot Portland Walking School Bus Program – the first of its kind in the state, and likely in Northern New England. Through this program, local volunteers and Maine Safe Routes to School staff will organize daily walking school buses at four elementary schools over an 18 month period.  Over twenty people attended the workshop, including the new Walking School Bus Program Coordinator, Portland Schools administrators and staff, City of Portland law enforcement, engineering, and public health staff, Community Partnerships for Protecting Children (CPPC) and representatives from parent-teacher organizations.

Registration for the Augusta workshop maxed out with fifteen people from several Maine counties, representing various constituencies – including school transportation directors, school safety officers and bus drivers, physical education teachers, parent-teacher organizations, and public health staff (see some of the participants on the Walking Audit below).
Walking audit at Augusta Walking School Bus Workshop
All workshop participants greatly enhanced each day by engaging fully and sharing their experiences of working on safe and active transportation options for students in Maine!  They also expressed interest in returning to their communities to begin to plan (or further enhance) their local walking school bus program.  As they move forward, they will be able to take advantage of continuing technical assistance from the PedNet Coalition, as well as from our local Maine SRTS program.  If you have questions about the workshops, and/or would like to discuss possibilities for your community, please contact Darcy Whittemore at saferoutes@bikemaine.org or 623-4511.

National Training for Coordinated Walking School Bus Programs - Coming to Maine!

November 7, 2012 in Augusta 
Register/Apply Here by Monday, October 22

Students crossing the streetThe Maine Safe Routes to School Program is thrilled to announce that the nationally-recognized Walking School Bus Program Workshop is coming to Maine next month!  Creating a Walking School Bus Program in your community is fun and completely doable – and offers community, health, and safety benefits for all.

On Wednesday, November 7, 2012 in Augusta, the national trainer for the WSB Program will deliver a comprehensive, nuts-and-bolts workshop for Maine school communities interested in starting a locally coordinated daily Walking School Bus Program.  In addition, thanks to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, the training is being provided at no cost to the communities involved – and lunch will be provided!  Mileage reimbursement is also available.

Begun in Columbia, Missouri in 2003 by the renowned PedNet organization, the Walking School Bus Program (WSB Program) has become a successful model that is now at work around the country.  The coordinated Walking School Bus Program is designed to initiate a consistent and safe system in which, on a daily basis, children can walk to and from school as a group under the supervision of trained parent and community member volunteers (i.e., via Walking School Buses).

Very popular with grade K-5 students, coordinated daily Walking School Bus Programs benefit school communities because they:

  • Increase safe passage of students already walking to and from school each day
  • Introduce additional students to walking regularly to and from school
  • Ease traffic congestion near schools during arrival and dismissal times, thereby improving safety and air quality
  • Increase students’ daily physical activity, thereby improving classroom behavior, academic performance, and health outcomes
  • Decrease demand for busing by the school district, thereby saving school district busing expenses

The hands-on WSB Program Workshop on November 7th will overview how the program works day-to-day, address liability & safety issues, outline tasks and timelines for getting the program started (including when to launch), show how to do a walking audit for prospective routes, go over marketing the program, offer practice with planning routes, and deal specifically with the concerns and issues raised by your school community.  Follow-up technical assistance will also be available for participating communities from both PedNet and the Maine Safe Routes to School Program.

Space is limited so please register and apply for the workshop hereby Monday, October 22.  If you have questions about the workshop and/or would like to discuss possibilities for your community, please contact Darcy Whittemore at saferoutes@bikemaine.org or 623-4511.

Walking School Bus Resources for All Maine Communities

Every day provides the chance to walk or bicycle to school, through town, or around your neighborhood.  And every community can utilize the Walking School Bus model for the trip to school, for walk and bike field trips, or for outside-of-school activities.  In our next newsletter we plan on profiling an informal parent-led daily Walking School Bus that has been a great success at one Maine elementary school!  Please contact us with any of your local stories, too!

Consider these additional resources for your local Walking School Bus efforts:

  • The Walking School Bus Guide from the National Center for Safe Routes to School – a good nuts & bolts resource
  • The Maine SRTS Bike Train Guide – a comprehensive, step-by-step resource for students and adults interested in bicycling as a group to school or for going on field trips
  • Comprehensive On-Line Training for Local Walking School Bus Programs (similar to Portland’s) – The same national training that Portland and other Maine communities went through last fall, via Maine SRTS and the PedNet Coalition, is now available as an online training through the National Center for SRTS.

Informal walking school buses and bicycle trains are easy to start and we can help you think through the possibilities for your community!