It’s great when we solve one problem and end up solving a whole lot more. When it comes to how kids get to and from school, there’s a lot of “yes, and” going on.
WHAT’S A ‘WALKING’ SCHOOL BUS?
We have a “walking” school bus at Bessie Carmichael Community School. This kind of bus is actually a group of students and families who walk to school together.
This is part of the San Francisco Unified School District’s Safe Routes to School program. A Safe Routes volunteer has been meeting up with parents and students several blocks from school once a week and walking them to school.
Not only does this create time for kids to get to know each other better, but they are also being physically active. So, the kids arrive energized and ready to learn, parents are happy to have an extra set of eyes on their kids during the busy morning commute and the neighborhood benefits from less traffic and fewer car emissions.
Some students were also having trouble attending school. The assistant principal started leading the walking school bus past the homes of these students, most of whom live near school, and now collects them one-by-one on the walk.
EXPANDING THE PROGRAM
Thanks to the Safe Routes to School program, which supports 35 of our elementary schools, many sites are already walking to school together. (In fact, 25 percent of our elementary students already walk to school.)
Over the course of the next few years, we will be working on expanding the number of schools that see the multiple benefits of regular walking school buses.
We know that some families live too far away to regularly walk to school, which is why we work with Muni and the Presidio YMCA on a bike education program that will teach our kids how to bike safely and confidently where conditions allow. The Presidio YMCA’s YBike program is already running bike clubs and supporting our staff in teaching bike lessons during physical education classes.
Connecting with other families to carpool to school will soon become easier, too, thanks to our collaboration with The City’s Department of the Environment. They are developing an app and mobile website, which will allow parents to get in touch with each other to organize walking school buses, bike trains or carpools.
And as our students enter middle school and high school, they become more independent in their travel to school. We know that one-third of middle schoolers and more than half of high schoolers take Muni to school.
That’s why we began a middle school transportation curriculum during the annual middle school orientation. We are turning it into a live performance to further engage our students.
As our city keeps growing more dense, the SFUSD is firmly committed to developing transportation options that promote student health and a healthy environment.
Myong Leigh is interim superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.