Walking school bus keeps kids safe, healthy

  • Parent Amanda Lippman, William Johnson and Dianne Ellis of the Gill Montague School District escort students on the “walking school bus” from downtown Turners Falls to the Sheffield School each day. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRAN—Paul Franz

  • Parent Amanda Lippman, William Johnson and Dianne Ellis of the Gill Montague School District escort students on the “walking school bus” from downtown Turners Falls to the Sheffield School. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Teachers, volunteer parents and students walk to school from downtown Turners Falls to Sheffield School each school day. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2018 3:27:48 PM

MONTAGUE – This is one bus students don’t have to worry about missing.

It’s the “walking school bus” to Sheffield Elementary School – a group of teachers, administrators, staff and volunteers who walk students to school safely every morning.

It began in February of this year after the idea was proposed following a visit from the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School Program through the Department of Transportation. This school year, it will run the entire academic year. 

Students are told and taught about safe practices for walking to school – like looking both ways before crossing the street and making eye contact with drivers.

Currently there is only one walking bus route, but Assistant Principal Christine Limoges said with the right number of volunteers, a second route could get started. The first route was determined after a parent survey showed there was a number of children walking from one downtown neighborhood. Each morning — rain, snow or sleet — the walking school bus meets outside of Second Street Bakery on Fourth Street at 7:55 a.m. The group then walks to the school via sidewalks and a couple of crosswalks.

Will Johnson, a volunteer for the walking school bus, said he remembers walking to the school in the rain.

“We walked in the rain storm a couple weeks ago — there were five kids, eight umbrellas,” he said.

Diana Ellis said she likes to participate in the walking school bus, because parents don’t have to worry about their children walking alone to school.

“Studies show when kids move, and walk, it gets their minds moving, too,” Ellis said.

The number of students vary day to day, but “frequent riders” say they like the “bus.”

Liam Parkins, 9, said he likes to walk to school. He uses the walking bus most mornings.

“I like the walking school bus, because I actually get to walk and talk with my friends,” Parkins said. “I get to work out my leg muscles.”

Edward Walsh, 8, who walked alongside Parkins one recent day, said he likes to talk to his friends, too.

“I also like to walk up the giant slope,” Walsh said.

Estes Lemerise-Reinking, 10, said he likes to take the walking school bus, because he gets to make it to school before the morning recess ends.

“I have a brother in preschool, so my dad leaves the house later,” Lemerise-Reinking said. “I also like to walk. It’s a lot more walking than you think it really is. Most of the time, people race up the hill when there are more people.”

Zuleimy Morales, 7, said she likes to take the walking school bus, because she likes to help her mother.

“My mom has to be at home with babies, so she can’t walk me to school,” Morales said. “I also like to walk with and talk to the teachers.”

Principal Melissa Pitrat participates in the walking school bus, as well.

“I have volunteered, because I feel it’s important for students to see the principal involved in supporting students during all aspects of the day, including joining them in safely walking to school,” Pitrat said. “It also provides me time to talk with and get to know the students.”

Limoges said the faculty and staff try to rotate and take one week a month where they do the route.

“The benefits are enhancing children’s health and well-being, easing traffic congestion near the school, improving air quality and improving community members’ overall quality of life,” Limoges said. “It is a way to get kiddos to school on time so that they may participate in our free breakfast and start the day off with their peers.”

One proposed second route would gather at the Montague public safety complex.

“We’d love to get more members of the community to get involved,” she said.

Those interested in helping the students get to school, may contact Limoges at 413-863-7421.

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