Organizers of the Northend Greenway envision a city where it’s safe to walk or bike wherever you want to go. And that’s why we support other great initiatives that help to get kids get walking. Enter Safe Routes to School. For years now, members of our Steering and Education Committees have been behind a neighborhood initiative to walk or bike with their kids to school. And with the recent help of RMH Community Health and Becky Johnston, Safe Routes to School Educator and Greenway Steering Committee member, “walking school buses” are gaining momentum.
[Article below re-posted from the Daily News Record, February 14, 2013, by Emily Sharrer]
But as the heavy yellow machine pulled up and pushed open its doors, the group smiled and waved it on its way to Waterman Elementary School.
For the rest of the school year, the scene will be repeated every Wednesday because of the new “Waterman Walking School Bus” — a caravan of young walkers and bikers and chaperones that prefers to get in a quick morning workout.
“It’s better walking than riding in a car,” said Jeylor Velasquez, 10. “[Riding in a car] you use more electricity and you don’t get much exercise.”
The group was organized by Becky Johnston, health promotion specialist at Rockingham Memorial Hospital Community Health. Johnston works with schools to promote walking and biking to school as a way to combat childhood obesity.
The children, flanked by parents and carrying signs, paraded up the street Wednesday to Waterman Elementary School. Another group left from the corner of Hartman Drive and Gay Street to reach the school.
Each Wednesday, children interested in participating can meet at those locations. Parents must accompany their children.
“I hope word spreads and there are more interested parents who will work with their neighbors to get more kids walking to school,” Johnston said.
Johnston says similar initiatives are in the works at Keister Elementary School in Harrisonburg and Plains and Mountain View elementary schools in Rockingham County. All four schools were chosen to receive funds from the federal Safe Routes to Schools program to install infrastructure to make walking or biking to school safer.
Funds from the federal program are administered by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The city is reviewing four bids for safety improvements and additions around Waterman scheduled to begin in March, including sidewalks and a pedestrian crossing walk signal. Bids range from $477,202 to $741,509.
“I walk here every day,” said 8-year-old Malia Bauman. “It’s actually really good exercise before you go to school. You can burn calories before you go in.”