By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
POTTSTOWN >> Adult volunteers and Rupert Elementary students participated in the official launch of the walking school bus Wednesday morning.
The program started Wednesday to coincide with the International Walk to School Day. The “walking bus” is made up of trained volunteers who walk children to school on predetermined safe routes. David Genova, wellness coordinator for the school district and walking bus program, said the walk went very well for the first day.
“Obviously there are some things that we can do better,” he said adding that timing was the biggest issue. He said as volunteers and children become more familiar with the routes then they’ll arrive at school earlier.
Many of the walking volunteers are employees of area businesses or part of community organizations. Genova said about 80 percent of the 40 volunteers are representing businesses. Organizations and business participating in the walking bus include the Rotary Club of Pottstown, Pottstown School District Administration, Creative Health Services, Community Health and Dental Care, Family Services of Montgomery County, Christ Episcopal Church and The Mercury. Community members and parents make up the remaining 20 percent of volunteers. Genova said these volunteers saw the value of the program and believed it was a healthy activity for students and employees.
“They all think it’s a great idea,” he said.
The walking school bus was created as a healthy and safe form of transportation for students. Children in the district that live within 1.5 miles of their school don’t get bussed. During a meeting about the walking bus program a few weeks ago, Pottstown School District Superintendent Jeff Sparagana said parents have been asking for a solution to the non-bussing policy which is how the walking program began.
Pottstown School District Supervisor of Transportation and Communications Lisa Schade said the routes that were created for the walking bus were made with safety as a priority. She was excited when she learned that the district would implement a walking bus program.
“It’s so perfect for our district. We have so many walkers,” she said.
The program is currently at Rupert Elementary School only with hopes to expand it to other schools in the future. Rupert Elementary has the most students traveling the furthest distances to school as a result of Edgewood Elementary School closing about two years ago.
About 15 children participated in the walking bus on Wednesday. Genova said he has about 30 kids total signed up for the program which runs five days a week and mornings only. Currently there are three separate routes for children to walk along. The longest route is about 1.5 miles and begins from the intersection of Walnut and Franklin Streets. Genova said both the children and the volunteers seemed to enjoy the walk Wednesday.
Edie Shean-Hammond of Christ Episcopal Church in Pottstown, walked the 1.5 mile route to Rupert Elementary with students Wednesday. Shean-Hammond said a total of six members of her church are walking volunteers.
“We are really interested in the health of the community. That’s part of our church’s mission,” she said.
She said the first day of the program was successful because kids were walked safely to school and it energized them for the day.
“They were excited. They were glad to see their friends and they were getting exercise,” Shean-Hammond said.
She said the walk also invigorated her and she hopes more adults and children will participate in the future.
Like Shean-Hammond, other employees felt they could benefit physically from walking while also contributing to the community. Creative Health Services Chief Operations Officer Kathy Kumitis said the walking bus allows their administrative staff, especially those that don’t get direct contact with clients, be involved with the community. She said one of the missions of Creative Health is to help make the community better and the walking bus does this.
“If we can get kids healthy by walking and not jumping on the bus then I’m all for it,” Kumitis said.
Brooke Martin, of the Pottstown Rotary Club, said the walking bus is a great initiative that aids the community.
“Rotary is basically about service above self,” she said.
Martin said she personally became a volunteer because of the wellness aspect and liked that it would get people moving. She said the walking bus gets employees out to enjoy fresh air through physical activity. This will lower absenteeism and make healthier employees, she said.
“It’s a great way to start your day,” Martin said.
For more information about the walking school bus, contact David Genova at the email firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 610-763-1466.