2018-06-21 / Front Page

Follow the Leader

Walking School Bus Celebrates Five Years
By Eliza Radeka


The Walking School Bus program for Pell area students provides a supervised daily walk to school, helping to encourage school day attendance and to get students to school safely and on time. The walk helps to promote healthy habits and increase performance in school, regardless of snow or rain. Here, the Gulls mascot, Gully was a celebrity walker during the last week of school. On average, 17 students walked daily with volunteers. The Walking School Bus is supported with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration through the Safe Routes to School Program. Volunteers are needed for next year. If you have a half hour to spare in the morning, even just once a week, call 401- 842-1925 x1 or x2. Training will be provided. The Walking School Bus program for Pell area students provides a supervised daily walk to school, helping to encourage school day attendance and to get students to school safely and on time. The walk helps to promote healthy habits and increase performance in school, regardless of snow or rain. Here, the Gulls mascot, Gully was a celebrity walker during the last week of school. On average, 17 students walked daily with volunteers. The Walking School Bus is supported with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration through the Safe Routes to School Program. Volunteers are needed for next year. If you have a half hour to spare in the morning, even just once a week, call 401- 842-1925 x1 or x2. Training will be provided. Walking School Bus participants were in for a surprise Monday morning as they exited their houses to see Gully, the Newport Gulls’ mascot, leading the walk to campus.


Mascot Gully encourages safe practices while accompanying students to school. (Photo by Jen Carter) Mascot Gully encourages safe practices while accompanying students to school. (Photo by Jen Carter) The cheerful mascot donned a bright yellow vest for the occasion, and directed traffic with a hand-held stop sign.

The Walking School Bus provides Pell Elementary School students with a safe, supervised daily walk to school, encouraging exercise and regular school attendance.

A group of dedicated volunteers greets children outside of their homes every morning starting at 8 a.m. before safely escorting them to school. For students who live within a mile of campus, this is a unique alternative to a traditional school bus.

“It was really fun to walk with Gully because he was high-fiving all the kids,” said Meadow, a fourth-grader.

When a student tripped and fell to the sidewalk, Gully quickly helped him up and carried him to the end of the street, eliciting cheers and laughter from the other students.

Gully was the first of several guest walkers who joined students and regular volunteers during the last week of the school year. Program coordinators invited teachers to join the route, and Principal Traci Westman and Assistant Principal Kathy McKeon also walked in celebration of the program, which just completed its fifth consecutive year.

The principals praised the program for motivating students to get up and out the door on their own. "This fun morning routine makes the kids feel excited about going to school and you can tell that they really want to be here,” Westman said.

The Walking School Bus has helped to improve school day attendance since many participants are not eligible for traditional bus transportation because of their close proximity to campus, and families have been able to rely on the program to get their kids to school safely and on time.

Forty-three students enrolled in the program this year, and volunteers escorted an average of 17 children daily. The group walked every day, regardless of the weather, though program attendance tended to drop slightly on rainy or snowy mornings.

Nevertheless, consistent participants walked the equivalent of two marathons over the course of the school year.

Volunteers keep the children occupied with a series of jokes, stories and songs that they chant along the route. But it’s not all fun and games.

“Teaching them the safety rules is really important and can be challenging at times,” said program assistant Morgan Head, who walks with the group three days a week.

The Walking School Bus emphasizes pedestrian safety guidelines, such as stopping at stop signs, looking both ways before crossing the street and not running ahead of the group.

“You have to walk two-by-two because if you walk three-by-three then somebody could fall off the sidewalk,” explained Sofia, a third-grade student.

Seasoned participants know exactly when and where to stop and are good at following the safety rules.

When the Walking School Bus arrives on campus, students enjoy a healthy breakfast in the cafeteria before heading to class.

The Newport Family and Child Opportunity Zone manages the program, recruiting volunteer walkers and mapping the route. The program receives support from the Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration provides funding through the Safe Routes to School program, which encourages walking and biking to school.

The East Bay Community Action Program recently honored The Walking School Bus at its 15th Annual Seaside Gala on June 7 at the Castle Hill Inn, and members of the school community have noticed the program’s success.

“It’s so great to see the kids being active and learning about safety,” Head said. “I would love to see more students join the route in the future.”

Not only does the Walking School Bus provide students with an enjoyable means of transportation, it also fosters new friendships and a strong sense of community.

“I like it a lot,” said Meadow. “It’s fun making new friends.”

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