The eclectic pageantry may be catchy — shiny balloons attached to backpacks, Ric Averill picking at his banjo, a former mayor tagging along at the back — but it is a simple notion that draws fourth-graders Kellie Old Elk and Aryanna Meraz to board a new “walking school bus” at New York School, 936 N.Y.
“You can walk with a group and you can walk with your friends,” said Kellie, shuffling along, arm-in-arm, with Aryanna along a brick sidewalk south of the school. “You don’t have to walk by yourself.”
The girls joined 18 of their schoolmates and more than a dozen parents, volunteers and other supporters Friday for the school’s inaugural walking school bus, a program sponsored by Douglas County Housing Inc. and financed with a $1,500 grant from the LiveWell Lawrence Fund of the Douglas County Community Foundation to pay for program expenses.
The pilot program is structured with a designated pedestrian “bus route” through east Lawrence, with scheduled “stops” along the route that runs between the school and the intersection of 15th Street and Haskell Avenue. Students walk as a group and are supervised by “bus drivers,” who are volunteers who receive pedestrian-safety training and undergo criminal background checks.
Kids get exercise. Parents take comfort that their children are safe. Families make connections that otherwise might never happen.
And Kellie, Aryanna and others can take part while doing what they enjoy most: Hanging out, having fun and passing the time with a word or two. Or three. Or four...
“It’s fun,” Kellie says, “because you have more people to talk to.”