Keeping kids safe as they travel to and from school is something that many parents with young children have been worried about, and one group in Iowa is doing something about it. A new program called the Iowa Safe Routes to School program is what many parents and educators are calling a “walking school bus,” and its goal is to make school transportation fun for kids, while lessening the anxiety of parents along the way. A walking school bus, as described by one adult supporter of the program, is where two or more parents escort a group of kids, usually all from the same neighborhoods, to and from school every day. It’s a bit different from the yellow school bus system that was set up in 1939 to transport kids safely to school everyday, but the idea behind this new program is the same. The program is, at its very core, a community effort, and multiple schools from the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas have already begun implementing the program.
With one parent leading the group and another following at the end, two neighborhood adults keep a tally of the kids they’re escorting everyday and make sure that everyone gets to school safely. The program is aimed toward kids who live close to school — usually within a mile, according to a program representative — who would normally have to walk or ride their bikes to school alone. Adults hope that this program will help teach younger kids to be more aware of their surroundings; although awareness has always been important to teach kids who walk to school everyday, as more kids have their own mobile music players and cell phones, it’s easier now than ever before to get distracted and not pay attention to cars and another people on the road. Additionally, the program has received support from parents and community leaders for encouraging kids to be active, and it is also an eco-friendly initiative that will cut down on fuel usage.
Although the program is still in its early stages, leaders of the Safe Routes to School program have been working closely with the Iowa Bicycle Coalition to educate parents and children about street safety. The program is also part of a larger statewide initiative to help young children be active, be conscious of environmental concerns, and be aware of their own personal safety.