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"Walking School Bus" Sets Off in Iowa

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Thursday, March 24, 2016   

DES MOINES, Iowa – It isn't yellow and it doesn't have wheels, but a special type of bus intends to safely get some Iowa children to school this spring.

It's called a Walking School Bus, and it encourages students to hoof it to class instead of riding in a bus or car.

The Perry Community School District is launching its Walking School Bus program, which Jennifer Walters, community health coordinator for Dallas County Public Health, helps to coordinate. She explains it gets children active and builds friendships.

"The kids love it,” Walters states. “Some of the things that they said were the activity was fun in the morning, they got to walk with their friends.

“One girl talked about how it's good for the environment, so there's less pollution and traffic congestion. One of the kids said it was great because, 'You should get out more.'"

On Fridays, the students will walk together along a predetermined route with adult supervision.

The program was developed through the Iowa Department of Public Health I-WALK project with a $20,000 grant from the Wellmark Foundation. It's modeled after similar projects in other areas, including Sioux City.

When the program began as a pilot last year, Walters says the school system discovered that 90 percent of Perry Elementary School students commuted to school in a car or school bus. So, the system did a walkability assessment of the town.

"Volunteers actually walked every block within the city to identify where there were gaps in sidewalk or missing sidewalks, or maybe there's no curb cuts or sidewalk at all,” she tells. “So, it kind of helped draw attention from city leaders about areas that are in need of improvement."

In addition to child safety, Walters adds the combined involvement of students, parents, volunteers and local businesses has the side benefits of building community connections and a better sense of neighborhood.

The American Heart Association is working to get dedicated state funding for Safe Routes to School projects to help more Iowa communities start Walking School Bus programs.






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