Through a partnership with AARP-Oregon and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Inter-generational Safe Streets Challenge recipient Crook County Public Health worked with Crooked River Elementary School in Prineville, Oregon. Here’s their exciting success story.
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This spring, Crook County Public Health offered four Walking School Bus routes every Wednesday morning for students of Crooked River Elementary, from spring break to the end of school (a total of 10 weeks). Abby Leibowitz, the AmeriCorps VISTA running the program, did significant outreach to the school community, and found that talking face-to-face with families seemed to be the most effective way of explaining and publicizing the program.
Abby posted fliers throughout town, presented during Senior Center lunches, contacted retired police officers and teachers, encouraged local community leaders to spread the word, and recruited school parents who had previously volunteered. In all, she recruited a total of 8 consistent volunteers and 3 substitute volunteers, 6 of whom were older adults. All volunteers underwent a background check and a one-hour training about the many benefits of walking to school, program logistics, volunteer & participant expectations, and pedestrian safety.
Each week, 15-30 total students participated, and even caught the attention of local media: Crooked River Elementary students who live close to their school may hop on a Walking School Bus once a week.
A large portion of the Prineville community does not regularly use the internet or computers. Halfway through the program, Abby started sending paper reminders home with the students, which saw a spike in the number of students participating.
Abby learned that the program announcements need to be more explicit that students arrive in time to still eat breakfast, as that may have prevented some families from participating.
One major success was the positive experiences described by Walking School Bus volunteers and participants. The volunteers formed fast friendships, and since many of the students became regular walkers, volunteers also developed strong, individual connections with the participants. Some of the volunteers went above and beyond the basic walking, and created scavenger hunts or games to keep the kids engaged.
Volunteers were recognized for their service with a certificate and “Walk to School Champion” travel mug. These little items were very much appreciated and helped the volunteers feel part of a robust, legitimate program.
The program was very visible within the community and gained broad public support; many community leaders are excited to support and grow the program. Parents have also expressed their excitement for this program when they see volunteers in yellow vests, and the Crooked River PE teachers have encouraged the other elementary school to implement Walking School Buses.
Next year, Crooked River Elementary plans to offer Walking School Buses every Wednesday morning in both the fall and spring. Every year, they will reassess the routes in coordination with the school to ensure that the routes are not just safe, but also reach the maximum number of students.
Great work, Abby & Crooked River!