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

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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!