Get on Board the Walking School Bus
Do you remember the joy of walking to school? Do you wonder why so many Arlington students who live close to school are being driven? Do you think it’s important to help our elementary-age commuters get to school using muscle power instead of fossil fuels? If you do, then you’ll be glad to hear that an innovative partnership led by Arlington seniors is helping more kids walk to school as “passengers” on Walking School Buses.
What is a Walking School Bus
Walking School Buses are a free, organic, hyper-local, and sustainable school transportation solution. Defined as “a group of students walking to school with one or more adults,” a Walking School Bus can be as informal as two families taking turns walking with students to school or as structured as an established walking route with designated “stops”/meeting points and a schedule of trained adult volunteers.
The adaptability and flexibility of Walking School Buses makes them especially appealing to busy Arlington families. They also benefit the community as a whole through improved transportation safety, increased physical activity, and enhanced neighborhood connections. Walking School Buses also help reduce congestion during the mini-rush hours that pop up around Arlington schools at arrival and dismissal time every day.
The Us Bus at Oakridge Elementary
One school, in particular, is crossing both streets and generations, thanks to a unique Arlington County partnership among the Commission on Aging’s Age-Friendly Arlington Initiative, Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation’s 55+ Program, WalkArlington, and Virginia Safe Routes to School. Known as the “Us Bus,” the Oakridge Elementary School Inter-Generational Walking School Bus matches senior volunteers with Oakridge students/families to engage seniors and support students walking to school.
The Us Bus debuted in April 2022. It has been going strong ever since, growing from eight student “passengers,” to 25 over the first three months and adding more students and volunteers this school year. According to volunteer coordinator and Walking School Bus leader Andrea Walker, “regular exercise, cross-generational exchange of ideas, both generations learning safe walking habits, and children knowing they can rely on their feet (and not the family car) are among the program’s many benefits.”
The Us Bus has even attracted interest of national and local news media. Both CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell and Patch featured the Us Bus last June, while Arlington Public Schools/AETV highlighted the effort on its “Crosswalks” series in August. This level of interest speaks volumes about the program’s resonance with and value to our broader community.
Thanks to a grant from the Arlington Community Foundation, the partners behind this success are working to promote formation of Walking School Buses in neighborhoods around Arlington by supporting both volunteer recruitment countywide and participation of APS elementary schools systemwide.
Arlington’s Us Bus partners are now looking for Walking School Bus “wheels” (adult volunteer leaders) and “passengers” (elementary students) to start in 2023.
If you are interested in volunteering as a Walking School Bus leader (adults of all ages welcomed), contact Andrea Walker.
If you are an APS family interested in having your student join a Walking School Bus, contact Lauren Hassel.
Volunteer training, safety resources, volunteer-family meet-up opportunities and coordination are provided, so lace up your shoes and get on board! There’s room for all! This bus is us!