Auckland , New Zealand

Walking School Bus

Auckland Transport

May 15, 2009

School parents promote child health and safely while building community, one step at a time.

Until last year, Rahul’s Dad used to drop him off at school on his way to work each morning. Recently arrived from Bangalore, India, both of Rahul’s parents were uncomfortable with the idea of him walking to school and hadn’t yet had a chance to meet any of their neighbors or his other classmates.

“Going to school is way more fun now!” Rahul enthuses. “Mom is with me, I get to be outside and I see my two best friends before class starts.”

The change is the result of the Walking School Bus (WSB) program. A “Walking School Bus” is a group of children who walk to and from school together supervised by neighborhood adults. Like a real bus, it “travels” at a set time and the children come out to join at stops situated close to where they live.

The Walking School Bus is run by adult volunteers (usually parents) who act as the “drivers” and “coordinators”. For Rahul’s mom, Renu, the program has also provided the opportunity for her to get involved in the local school and meet other parents. “It’s been a nice way to start to start to get to know our new community” she explains. “Now I see other parents and have an opportunity to have a casual chat and find out about the small things that can help Rahul adjust better to his new school environment.”

Established in 1999, there are now over 300 “Walking School Bus” routes operating in neighbourhoods throughout the Auckland region. Each route is coordinated through the local school, with over 1800 volunteers supporting the program city-wide. This means that more than 5,000 students use a Walking School Bus every day.

The Walking School Bus has benefited the students, the parents, the school and the local community. Daily walks provide a chance for children to learn road safety and increase their confidence and independence. Parents and caregivers have a chance to meet and speak which builds a stronger community and sense of investment in and around the school. An increase in the number of students walking has also meant a decrease in the traffic congestion and pollution on the school run. Not surprisingly the local transportation authority has also become an enthusiastic partner of the initiative.

Research from the University of Auckland has confirmed what participants in the Walking School Bus program like Renu and Rahul have experienced first hand: that particularly for new immigrants, this initiative creates community cohesion, provides an opportunity to socialize with other parents and develop a relationship with the school. The research also showed that having this relationship between home, community and school results in better outcomes for students – they tend to do better and as a result and stay in formal schooling for longer.

The success of the Walking School Bus has spread to a number of other jurisdictions and focus areas, for example:

  • Waterloo (Canada), where is has been used by a local school board to support leadership initiatives for older students;
  • the state of Victoria (Australia), where VicHealth piloted a walking school bus programme as a health promotion initiative in four local council areas that has expanded to include 58 council areas;
  • Seattle (US), where the Harborview Medical Center was nationally recognized by the 2007 Foster McGaw Prize for its work with ethnic communities, including its use of a walking school bus programme to promote child safety in inner city neighbourhoods;
  • Additionally, recent pediatric health research has evaluated the Seattle programme as an effective strategy for combating child obesity in low-income, urban neighborhoods.

Making it Work for You:

  • The success of the Walking School Bus Program is that it combines an everyday chore with the broader goal of increased community health and safety and community engagement for newcomers as well as long-term residents.
  • Schools are community hubs. Find ways for newcomers in your community to volunteer their time and get involved with the school - it will help both the parents and the children feel more at home.
  • Look for other ways to evaluate the impact of community initiatives; the walking school bus delivers home-to-school connection, social integration, community health and safety, environmental protection and traffic control!

For this Good Idea contact:

Elena Smith, Walking School Bus Coordinator Auckland Transport
Private Bag 92250,
Auckland, New Zealand,
T: (09) 379 4422 ext. 9142

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