On a brisk spring morning the sun shines, the birds chirp, and a slight breeze makes its way through the neighborhoods of Tucson. Kids lace their shoes to begin their walk to school with neighborhood friends, cracking jokes and playing games like I-spy along the way.
For Laura Still, this is every Wednesday morning. As an adult leader and the Walking School Bus coordinator, she takes a group of kids once a week to Annie W. Kellond Elementary School on East Lehigh Drive.
“Wednesdays are my favorite part of my week,” Still said. “It’s the best way to start your day – the kids are so cute and interesting.”
The program currently serves six schools across Tucson and encourages exercise and togetherness while helping parents. Safe Routes to School Tucson and the Living Streets Alliance, an organization that promotes healthy communities by transforming streets into places for walking, bicycling, and socializing, started the Walking School Bus in January to encourage neighborhood safety and exercise.
The program had a bit of a slow start. “Parents were a little hesitant at first,” Still said. “But once it got going they realized how convenient and great it is for the kids.”
She is just one of many volunteers who help walk kids to school in the morning.
Petty Almeida works at Mission View Elementary in South Tucson and volunteers as an adult leader to help get kids to school safely and on time.
“There are no school buses,” Almeida said. “So we try make sure students are going to school and are not absent, especially if their parents are busy,” She said she wanted to help out because her own kids went to Mission View.
The program helps busy parents by providing a way for their children be active and get to school safely every morning, according to Evren Sonmez, program manager for Living Streets Alliance Tucson. “Not all parents have the time to walk with their kids or their schedules are too busy to drop them off. So they let their kids walk with the leader.”
Sonmez hopes the program will spread to other schools and neighborhoods.
“Our goal is to increase physical activity through a fun and safe way for students to get to school,” Sonmez said. “And people are beginning to understand that.”
Hunter Kerr is a reporter for El Independiente, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org