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Safe Routes to School- PedNet Coalition


Main Components

  • Build partnerships - PedNet began its SRtoS program by first developing broad partnerships with a variety of agencies in the community to support the program.  Partners included a public health agency, school districts, Partners in Education, National Safe Kids Coalition, police departments, elected representatives, local media, sports teams, and entertainers.

  • Assess the walking environment - PedNet next assessed the walking environment that children would walk through to get to schools using the Safe Routes to School Walkability Assessment tool.  This allowed PedNet to identify safe walking and biking routes and to identify aspects of routes that needed improving to become safe.

  • Get to know the population - Pednet conducted surveys with parents and children to identify barriers and facilitators related to children walking to and from school.

  • Start with a Walk to School Day - PedNet first organized dozens of Walk to School Days at various schools.  Starting with one special event, like a Walk to School Day, helps to build support from community partners and to build momentum to design an on-going program.  Walk to School Days also challenge the community’s assumptions about what is possible, offer a new “normal,” and create a culture shift that can be used to grow a regular program.  PedNet recommends organizing a minimum of 2-3 Walk to School Days before organizing a Walking School Bus program. 

    A Walk to School Day is similar to other school events, such as field trips, sports days, fundraisers, fairs, etc.  A Walk to School Day should make a big impact and ideally include hundreds of children (getting more than 50% of students to walk to school on one day is achievable at most schools).  Components of such an event should include: PromotionStaging posts one mile from school; Special guests; System to track participation (for example, have children fill out card when they arrive at school to enter a drawing); A healthy snack

    After each Walk to School Day, send thank you notes to everyone who participated; monitor all media stories about the event and distribute to participants; calculate distances walked by students and distribute to participants (may also calculate calories burned, gallons of gas saved, greenhouse emissions saved, etc.); and calculate the same numbers if 50% of all students walked to school every day and distribute to participants.  These efforts lay the groundwork for an on-going program.

  • Expand to an on-going program – Use a Walk to School Day to launch the Walking School Bus program, as it will create additional excitement around the program.  Consider starting with a once-a-month Walking School Bus program or once a week Walking School Bus program (“Walking Wednesdays”).  PedNet’s fall program runs from mid-September to Thanksgiving, while the spring program runs from early March to the end of school year.  Some Walking School Bus routes run all year long.  

    The following steps should be taken to start a Walking School Bus program (the three main components of a program are highlighted in italics):

    • Research funding opportunities and training in best practices. 
    • Identify parents/children who were particularly supportive and energized by the Walk to School Days and enlist their help.
    • Advertise the program and register children.  Develop a marketing plan and use Back to School Night, school newsletters, and parent information meetings to advertise and register children.  Develop both a registration form that includes a liability waiver that can be signed by the parent and a system for receiving and processing registration forms.
    • Recruit volunteers from a variety of sources.  Volunteers might include parents, local colleges, community volunteers, and senior citizen groups.  Define volunteers’ roles and responsibilities, decide whether to conduct criminal background checks, develop and organize one or more volunteer training sessions on pedestrian safety, and plan when and how to distribute route information to volunteers.
    • Plan the routes to school.  The National Center for Safe Routes to School’s “Walkability Checklist” is an excellent tool for assessing and documenting the safety and suitability of particular streets or street segments for Walking School Bus routes’ as well as for engaging city or county officials in discussions about whether the infrastructure is adequate for children to walk to school.  Important factors to consider include the existence and condition of sidewalks, the speed and volume of traffic during the walk-to-school period, and neighborhood safety concerns.  In addition, a process is needed for plotting children’s addresses on a map (or an electronic map) and for creating a route that links those homes and allows for transporting children to school within a reasonable time frame. 

Keys to Success

  • A Walking School Bus Liaison – Having a Walking School Bus Liaison at each school is a great way to build capacity at each school and monitor the program.  This person should be a parent or teacher or an energetic community or neighborhood leader who has a passion for the program and children’s welfare.  The position should be a paid 3-10 hours/week position, as it is too much work to do solely as a volunteer.

  • Assess the program’s progress on a regular basis - Use winter and summer months to review successes and challenges, adjust policies and procedures, restock incentives and recruit new Walking School Bus participants/volunteers.

  • Explore policy initiatives that institutionalize the program whenever possible.

  • Include the five complementary strategies outlined by the National Center for Safe Routes to School – Below are examples of how PedNet incorporated the five strategies into its program:

    • Engineering – PedNet and the city of Columbia received a total of $28 million in grants in 2006 to make roads more pedestrian safe, a substantial portion of which was focused around schools.

    • Enforcement – PedNet worked with the police department and the public works department to install speed feedback signs at entrances to schools.

    • Encouragement – PedNet implemented a social marketing campaign, including radio commercials and posters, and citywide Walk to School Days in conjunction with the Walking School Bus.

    • Education – PedNet trained their Walking School Bus volunteers to teach children pedestrian safety.

    • Evaluation – PedNet conducted a study with the University of MO that focused on academic outcomes associated with walking to school (the study included intervention and control schools).  PedNet now tracks daily participation in the Walking School Bus through the Walking School Bus liaisons at each participating school.

Barriers to Implementation

  • Funds – PedNet received Safe Routes to School funding from the national and local levels to implement and expand their programThe amount of funding needed to operate a SRtoS program depends on the size and duration of the program. 

  • Recruiting volunteers – Volunteers are the foundation to a SRtoS program.  PedNet’s program relies on college students, but not every program will have access to college students.  Identifying and recruiting a diverse group of volunteers may be a challenge depending on the community. 

  • “Liability” – In general, a school does not increase its liabilty exposure by organizing a Walking School Bus program if the following are in place:

    • A sensible safety code

    • The safety code is communicated clearly to all children, parents, school officials, and others involved in the program

    • Parents sign a liability waiver stating they understand the risks and accept them

    • Good policies for weather, behavior, safety, etc. are adopted and documented

    • The school maintains excellent communciations with parents