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On Parenting
Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 08/22/2011

Walking school bus: The best way to get back to school

A new study published online today in the journal Pediatrics gives parents some compelling reasons to consider giving up the carpool this school year.

The Walking School Bus and Children’s Physical Activity: A Pilot Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial” involved fourth-graders at several elementary schools in the Houston region where some schools offered the option of a walking school bus — when an adult chaperones children in a group to and from school.

The schools with the walking option reported not only higher numbers of students trekking to school but also higher levels of physical activity for all students. Plus, the walking schools also reported that fewer cars brought children to school, which may seem like an obvious outcome, but it’s a crucially important one.

The results, said Jason Mendoza, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and one of the study’s lead authors, should be of interest to everyone in or around a school community.

When I last wrote about the benefits of walking to school, a few readers commented that I hadn’t considered how dangerous it could be. They wrote of possible abductions and of bullies who take advantage of their prey outside school grounds.

Some of these dangers are very real, the recent Brooklyn case being a wretched example. Still, there are better ways to protect our kids, especially since the solution that most of us rely on now — driving to school — has created a greater threat to every child near a school.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “50% of children hit by cars near schools are hit by cars driven by parents of students.” That’s a sad statistic. It’s one of those unintended consequences of us parents trying to protect our kids. We drive them to school to ward off predators, but we’ve ended up introducing a bigger problem.

This study’s results suggest we may be able to fix our mistakes. Certainly in the younger grades, the Walking School Bus option combines the best of all worlds. It replaces traffic with walkers, increases physical activity and provides a chaperone to help them navigate the neighborhood and protect them.

Many schools and communities have informal arrangements. In the District, a handful of schools use the walking model and also a version that has kids bicycling. Usually all it takes is a parent to volunteer to be the “bus driver.”

There’s also support for anyone who wants to start a program or codify one.The D.C. Department of Transportation’s Jennifer Hefferan coordinates the walking and biking programs. Nationally, the federally funded program called Safe Routes to School offers resources such as a guide to help parents get started.

Does your school have a walking school bus option? Would you consider starting one?

By  |  12:00 PM ET, 08/22/2011

 
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