When is a school bus not a vehicle at all?
When it's a "walking" school bus, a concept Sherman Elementary School will introduce next week to the Toledo Public Schools when two groups of students start walking to school in bus-like groups, escorted by parent volunteers.
Walking in a group is safer and more fun than walking alone, Sarah Bucher, the director of healthy living at the YMCA/JCC of Greater Toledo, told Sherman students during pedestrian-safety assemblies at the school Thursday. The assembly functioned in part as pep rallies for the Walking School Bus campaign scheduled to begin Tuesday.
University of Toledo basketball players Reese Holliday and James Ewing, UT mascot Rocky the Rocket, and Mercy Children's Hospital's Hugs the Hippo led "Go Sherman, Stay Safe" cheers during the assemblies, which also featured brief safety presentations from the Ohio Department of Transportation and a skit in which school staff posed as students on a pedestrian-safety quiz panel.
The safety information was geared to all students at the school, whether they are signed up to accompany a Walking School Bus or not.
Because Toledo Public Schools discontinued most student transportation during 2010 to help cover a massive budget shortfall, nearly all Sherman students now either walk to school or are driven there by a parent.
"It's a great program to help keep the kids safe," principal Larry Warniment said of the Walking School Bus concept. "It will help parents take responsibility, especially crossing the busy streets like Greenbelt, Bancroft, and Cherry."
But finding volunteer "bus monitors" has been a challenge, especially this late in the school year, Ms. Bucher said. She hopes the two groups scheduled to start walking together on Tuesday will be visibly successful, so that more volunteers can be lined up in time for the 2012-13 school year's start in August.
"Make sure you tell your parents to sign up. We need a lot of volunteers," she implored one of the assemblies.
The "action team" organized by the Toledo Public Schools, the YMCA/JCC, and other social-services organizations also is preparing an informational "tool kit" that other schools can use to start Walking School Bus programs, Ms. Bucher said in an interview.
Mr. Warniment said one of the two groups starting Tuesday will be a "relay bus," in which volunteers hand off the group from one to another along the way, each covering part of the trip.
Students who participate in a Walking School Bus will receive "charm chains" for which they will get a new charm whenever they walk with the group for at least three days in a given week.
The assemblies stressed the importance of looking both ways before crossing streets, and crossing only at corners, where motorists are more likely to watch out for pedestrians.
During the skit for kindergartners through third-graders, the children shouted out the meanings of walk-signal icons, while the upper classes were urged to obey crossing guards' instructions -- even if those older children think they can fend for themselves -- to set good examples for the younger ones.
The fourth through sixth-graders also watched a brief video starring schoolmates who acted out scenarios for safe street crossing. The younger students were to watch the video today at lunch.
"It's important so kids won't have any trouble, [such as] getting hit by cars," said Mr. Ewing, who along with Mr. Holliday had also volunteered one morning last fall to lead a Walking School Bus demonstration to Sherman.
Contact David Patch at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6094.