‘Walking Bus’ program encourages kids to take a hike

No, it isn’t a Flintstones-like vehicle – a bus with no floorboard!
ake a look, and you’ll get the idea …

Where’s the bus? The idea, we’re told, is simply that kids walk to school as a group, with parents strolling alongside.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
When the City of Portland’s Office of Transportation announced that its “Safer Routes to School (SR2S) program” had received a $599,515 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) – and they were spending the money programs like a “Walking Bus” – we had to check it out.

What we found was that a Walking Bus isn’t an odd, kid-powered vehicle. Instead, it is a simply a plan that, PDOT officials say, “Enables fun, healthy, and safe ways for students to walk and bike to school.”

Kelly Elementary Principal Sharon Allen and Portland Mayor Tom Potter welcome kids to Kelly Elementary School as they get off their “Walking Bus”.

We asked Portland Mayor Tom Potter, present to celebrate the kickoff of the program at Kelly Elementary School in Lents, to clarify.

“Well, what’s important is that obesity is a national, state, and local problem.  By having kids walk or ride their bikes to school, they actually are healthier, and also are coming to school better-prepared, because their minds are clear. It also reduces traffic [-caused] pollution – because now, many parents drive their children to school. Plus, the children seem to enjoy doing it.”

Kelly Elementary School organizer Diane Galvez explains the program to us – and to KOIN-6 News.

“The ‘walking bus’ idea is that the group moves together,” explained Diane Galvez, the organizer of the Kelly Elementary School program. This is for safety reasons, primarily. They move together – as if they were a bus – but instead, they are on foot or on their bikes.”

Parents come along for the “ride”, said Galvez. “We make sure that kids stay on the path and don’t get hit by a car, or hurt other people’s property. We keep them close to us, and make sure they’re okay.”

Echoing the Mayor’s sentiment, Galvez added, “Exercise and good health are the primary issues. We have a huge number of kids that are a little bit overweight, and we try to make them realize that there is an easy and healthy way for them to get in shape and get to school.”

The program’s organizer, Diane Galvez, is joined by volunteers Christina Helvie, Cher Bengard, and Cece Mills – just some of the 50 parents who share responsibility in the program.

The Kelly “Walking Bus” covered a mile, on the morning we visited a couple of weeks ago. “Today we had 22 kids on our school bus, and seven or eight parents,” noted Galvez. “This is the biggest one we’ve ever had.  It’s very rewarding.  It makes you feel good, just thinking about it.”

If you want to volunteer for the Kelly Elementary School “Walking Bus”, call the school at (503) 916-6350.

Behind the news: We weren’t the only medium covering the event! We hope the Walking Bus concept continues after this media event was staged. But, we always enjoy working with our friends at the TV stations!

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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