Melissa Hallenbeck, from ProMedica, wears a yellow reflective vest as she leads a group of students, called "walking school buses, along Vicksburg Drive en route to Sylvan Elementary.
For the first time, third grader Tara Langenderfer walked to her neighborhood school.
“I was excited about this because this is my first time walking,” the 9-year-old said. But she was not alone -- 23 other students joined her at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, along with a handful of parents, as the walking group snaked around corners and bends from the Lincoln Woods development to Sylvan Elementary School.
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ProMedica's Melissa Hallenbeck, injury prevention and community outreach specialist, and Amanda Brodbeck, injury prevention specialist, monitored the "walking school bus." Both workers are from ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital.
The walking bus began at an intersection in the residential neighborhood and took a calculated route so that children could join or be “picked-up” along the way. Just like a bus, the passengers grew as the troupe reached its final destination at Sylvan.
The walking school bus is part of the state's Safe Routes to School Program. The campaign is part of a national effort to reduce children’s injuries to and from school and to promote wellness by encouraging people to walk and bike. The Ohio Department of Transportation awarded the City of Sylvania about $30,000 for the educational portion of the project. ProMedica partnered in the program.
In spring 2013, the city completed the infrastructure for the program. That entailed sidewalk upgrades, painted crosswalks, and flashing beacons. The $240,000 cost was covered mainly by ODOT; $14,000 was paid from the city’s general fund.
Since January, Ms. Brodbeck and Ms. Hallenbeck have conducted educational sessions at Highland, Maplewood, and Sylvan elementary schools preparing the students for safe arrivals to school. Maplewood had its first walking school bus this week and Highland students began walking last month. Parents were enlisted as volunteers to oversee the children en route to class.
McCord Junior High School students were encouraged to bike or walk to school, but because they are older and more “independent,” a structured walk such as that in the elementary schools was not organized. Instead the junior high students are creating a video for the program about proper use of flashing rapid beacons.
Volunteer parent Nicki Greenberg thought the experience encouraged kinship and community. Her children -- third grader Nina, 9, and first grader Addie, 7 -- were joined by their little sister Ellie, 4, a preschooler.
“I think it is good for the kids to come together as a community and get some exercise,” she said. “My kids biked to school last year and loved it.” She said this program mapped out a safe route, whereas the route her children chose on the bike ride was unsafe, with no sidewalks, and they had to frequently stop.
Before the walk began on Wednesday, Ms. Hallenbeck reminded the children not to follow the person in front of them when crossing the street.
“Look for yourselves,” she said.
Children happily bopped along the sidewalk, talking to each other and at times petting the two toy-size pooches that accompanied them on their walk. In all, it took about 25 to 30 minutes.
Ms. Brodbeck said the frequency of the walks will depend on how often parent volunteers want to coordinate the effort. The walks will be tailored to each schools' needs.
Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @natalietrusso.