Safe Walks to school on the walking school bus
Kids learn a lot at schools but they can even learn a little something from the way they get there in the morning, according to supporters of the new Walking School Bus program in Ottawa.
The Ottawa Student Transportation Authority launched the program in partnership with Ottawa Public Health, the Ottawa Safety Council, and Green Communities Canada.
The program encourages children to commute to school on foot by giving them a way to do so. Partnering with schools, the program provides a walking school bus that takes safe walking routes to schools. An adult, with whom the group of children travel, supervises the daily walk.
After a successful pilot trial this past year, eight schools announced they would have the Walking School Bus in September 2015.
Photo Corinne Rikkelman
The walking school bus makes its way to Robert Bateman Public School in Ottawa.
The program is very important because it not only provides physical exercise but also enables kids to socialize as they walk and allows them to know their neighbourhoods better, said Wallace Beaton, Ottawa Walking School Bus organizer.
In a video produced by organizing groups, a student on his way to school said he loves how the program allows him to talk with his friends and walk at the same time.
The warm memories made through walking to school are very important benefits, said Beaton.
Being of a generation when the vast majority of Canadian children walked to school, Beaton said he remembers playing and jumping on snow banks with his friends as they walked together.
The memories, he said, rushed back to him as he watched the children on the walking school bus play in the snow during their commute last winter.
"I felt a tinge of sadness that not nearly as much children have that same kind of freedom that we had and I think that's partly why I am doing the kind of work I am doing right now. I feel that we owe it to our kids," said Beaton.
A 2014 report by Active Healthy Kids found that 24 percent of Canadian children walk or wheel to school, a figure less than half that of a generation ago.
A 2008-2009 project called School Travel Planning surveyed 1,500 families from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia to find out why parents didn't want their kids to walk to school. The five most common reasons were inclement weather, time pressures, convenience, long distances and safety issues.
Beaton said the walking school bus really addresses these concerns. It saves parents time and energy, he said, because they no longer have to drive their children to school. It also ensures safety by making sure an adult supervises the children.
The walking school bus pilot took place last fall. A formal evaluation by Ottawa Public Health, Beaton said, showed that parents had high levels of satisfaction with the program.
The children, he added, also seemed very pleased with the service and had a great time.
"It's a very pleasant experience to be able to walk to school, get some fresh air, and chat with friends and interact with the walking school bus leaders," said Beaton. "It's better than to be on a school bus or in the back of mom and dad's car."
The concept of the walking school bus was first created in Australia by author, inventor and street philosopher David Engwitch in 1992. Since then, it has risen in popularity throughout Europe, New Zealand and North America.
A survey by the non-profit agency Family Service of Rhode Island found that the walking school bus recently implemented in their area had increased the number of children going to school and cut down the amount of actual school buses needed by the school, lowering heavy costs such as fuel and maintenance.
The project is still very small in Ottawa, said Beaton, but it does take time to build participation in the walking school bus.
In some of the communities, the registration rates are very high while in others the level is quite low.
"We are reintroducing something that disappeared a long time ago," Beaton said.
Miriam Katawazi is the summer journalist at the Peace and Environment Resource Centre.