In an effort to encourage children to walk to school, Tuscan Elementary School is piloting a "walking school bus" program beginning March 15.
A Walking School Bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults -- sort of a "walking co-op," according to information on the Tuscan PTA website. Trained parent chaperones will guide the "bus," picking up children along the way from their homes or at designated stops.
The program will begin with two routes from two opposite directions in town and will run on Friday mornings, said Cami Zelevansky, one of the parent coordinators. (To see routes, check the most recent school newsletter).
"We've been wanting to start this for a while," said Zelevansky, who said she brought the idea to PTA president Sharon Huetz in the fall. The PTA also is conducting a parent survey to gather information and gauge interest in the initiative.
The PTA is working with Meadowlink, an organization that partners with the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) to provide Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs to schools and municipalities. SRTS program manager Nora Shepard spoke at the school in the spring and also at the most recent Maplewood is Green "Green Drinks" event to explain the program and how it works.
"Quite a few 4th and 5th graders already walk to school," said Zelevansky. The pilot is an attempt to get children in grades K-3 to also walk, in a safe and supervised environment.
"We are trying to reverse the sedentary lifestyle, provide a structured activity, fresh air and exercise, and teach pedestrian safety," said Zelevansky, who pointed out that limited recess time gives students fewer opportunities for physical activity. "It's also a good way for kids to get to know each other," she said.
Maplewood's Public Health Nurse, and Tuscan parent, Candice Davenport is the co-chair of the program.
"A healthy community is a thriving community," said Davenport. "Healthy initiatives through our schools like walking school bus provide those opportunities to make health part of our children's daily habits."
If it is successful, the organizers will expand the program at Tuscan and help bring it to other elementary schools in the district, said Zelevansky, who said parents at Seth Boyden and Clinton have expressed an interest.
Zelevansky said organizers had reached out to community organizations for support and partnership, including Maplewood Loves Wellness, the Maplewood Seniors Club (whose members might walk with students or help them at street crossings), the Elks, the Maplewood Township Committee (committee members will be on hand on March 15), the Maplewood Health and Recreation Departments, the South Mountain YMCA and Seton Hall University. The Maplewood Police Department will be on hand to make sure students are crossing streets safely.