All aboard, kiddos. Time to get on the bus.
A new program aimed at getting North Vancouver elementary students heading to school with a “walking school bus” is picking up steam in North Vancouver.
Each day, a parent or professional walks a designated route, picking up kids on the way and delivering them safely to school.
The concept has been around for a while, but TransLink is now funding a pilot project with the City of North Vancouver and North Vancouver School District called Kid Commute to test different models and see which gets the most uptake.
“We are hoping to see more students walking to school and less cars around the school,” said Faye Willick, executive director for Dedicated Action for School Health (DASH).
Schools included in the Kid Commute pilot include Larson, Queen Mary, Ridgeway, Westview and Queensbury elementaries.
The perks of walking to school are manifold, Willick said. DASH’s mandate is to promote health and wellbeing for students, but research shows that physical activity boosts academics too.
“It's about having those students get physical activity to and from school,” she said. “They become better learners in the classroom because they've burned off some of that energy.”
For TransLink, the municipalities, and school districts, the goal is cut back on carbon emissions and traffic, particularly around schools.
And parents involved in Kid Commute enjoy having one less task to handle in the mornings.
“There are quite a few reasons, one is because it makes absolutely brilliant sense,” said Julie Falk, walking school bus leader for Queen Mary Elementary.
The more kids coming on foot, the fewer SUVs there will be driving to the school, meaning it’s safer for absolutely everyone, Falk reasoned.
“I know it's a big issue for schools in general on the North Shore. Anything that can help with that, because some of the erratic behaviour from some drivers in front of schools at school times is insane to me,” she said.
On the walks, Willick said the kids learn how to become good pedestrians, knowing where to look for possible hazards. To make the commute a bit more fun, Falk has them play games like “the lines are lava,” or gets them to walk like a duck or a bear, she said.
On the way, the kids make connections and get a deeper understanding of their neighbourhood than they would while buckled into a booster seat.
“They're paying attention to nature around them. They're looking like they're really enjoying what the walk is giving them,” Willick said.
And, although some of them maybe aren’t crazy about getting to school under their own steam at first, they absolutely do come around, said Willick, who rubbishes the notion that it’s too far to go for little legs. They have one kindergartner who hikes 20 minutes, all uphill, every morning, and arrives with plenty of energy to scamper off and play.
“She walks the whole distance and she's just a trooper,” Willick said. “If [kids] are soft, we made them that way.”
Falk’s route starts at West Esplanade and winds up to Queen Mary, and she can attest to the boost that comes from a morning walk.
“It really does change your sense of perspective on the day,” she said.
Despite the obvious benefits, commuting on foot isn’t what it used to be. According to the school district, for every 12 families that walk to school, 12 other families drive, and one other family bikes, scooters or skateboards.
Willick said they’re hoping to expand the program, which will need parents willing to have their children join Kid Commute, volunteers, funding for paid leaders where appropriate, and schools wanting to sign on. Queensbury Elementary is next on the list.
Anyone who wants to get involved can email email@example.com.
Mayor Linda Buchanan welcomed the program as a way to get kids started on lifelong healthy habits.
“When children walk, roll or bike to school they can connect with their friends, community and develop their navigational skills while supporting their health and wellbeing through daily exercise. The city has long been a champion of safe and active routes to school,” she said, in a release.