Bridge Street exploring a ‘walking bus’ for students; meeting this evening

  • Bridge Street School will hold an information meeting Tuesday on its planned adoption of a walking school bus to school. Gazette file photo

@BeraDunau
Published: 9/25/2017 10:29:27 PM

Northampton — A different kind of bus is set to be pulling into the Bridge Street School this fall, one whose siding is the strength of community and whose motor is the movement of dozens of young feet.

A meeting on the walking school buses that the Bridge Street School is looking to launch will take place on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the library of the Bridge Street School. The goal of the meeting is for parents to sign up their children and to volunteer as “drivers.”

A walking school bus involves children walking to school in an orderly fashion, accompanied by trained chaperones. Walking school buses are used in communities across the commonwealth and around the world.

One of the parents who has been involved in trying to bring the walking bus concept to Northampton is Roni Gold, whose two daughters attend the Bridge Street School. Gold is also an elementary school teacher at the Rebecca Johnson School in Springfield, which has had a walking school bus program for the past few years.

Gold said that the program has built up the social and emotional health of students, allowing them to make friends and focus before school starts, as well as community.

“It’s been an amazing development,” he said.

Gold noted that the Department of Public Works in Springfield widened sidewalks and improved intersections in response to the program, and made sure that snow was cleared off the routes during the winter.

Right now, there are two walking bus routes planned for the Bridge Street School, one that is set to run north of the school and another that is set to run south of it. Gold said that more than 40 percent of the parents at Bridge Street filled out a survey this spring to determine whether or not there was a need for a walking bus. Among its findings was a determination that about 60 percent of students who live within a half-mile of the school drive there.

The survey was done with the help of Massachusetts Safe Routes to School, a federally-funded Massachusetts Department of Transportation initiative that encourages elementary and middle school students to walk and bike to school more, and helps communities to create safer routes for them to do so.

The Parent Teacher Organization at Bridge Street has been a big driver of the effort to bring a walking bus to the school, which has been in the works since the last winter, when Gold brought it up at a meeting of the Ward 3 Northampton Neighborhood Association. Bridge Street School Principal Beth Choquette and Bridge Street School PTO President Stephanie Pouliot have both supported the project.

Gold said that each bus is set to have about 30 children, and that the chaperone rate will be two chaperones per 15 children. All chaperones will have to be CORI checked, after which they will go through training. Having high school students volunteer for the later routes is also being explored.

“We need community members to participate in this,” Gold said.

Children from first through fifth grade can be signed up by their parents to ride the walking bus. However, younger children can also walk with the bus if they are accompanied by an older sibling. Each route is about 0.8 miles.

Gold said that at least a trial run of the program will be done on Oct. 4, International Walk to School Day, but that the plan is for the program to be fully launched this fall.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com




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