UPDATE: Walking School Bus Program Helping Kids Get to Class

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UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) – For some Rockford students, getting to school on a school bus is not a option. These kids must walk if their homes are within a mile and a half of their school. Unfortunately, this hurdle causes them to be late or to miss school completely.

“It’s an adventure!”

Benjamin Edwards is having a blast on his morning walk to school and leading the way is Deniece Smith who is just happy to get the kids active and ready for class.

“It’s for their health, mainly. A healthy body is a healthy mind just means a good working brain in school, period.”

The everyday stroll is a part of the Rockford walking school bus program, which as volunteers like Smith guiding first through fifth graders from the Fairgrounds Valley Community Center to Lewis Lemon Elementary.
In its first year in 2013, the initiative cut tardiness by more than 50% for kids in the program.

“Anything we can do to get them to walk that mile to school and to be there safely, on time, and ray to learn is a positive thing for them, their families, and the entire community,” says Paul Logli with the United Way of the Rock River Valley.

40 students are signed up to take part in the Walking School Bus Program to make a nearly one mile journey everyday down the sidewalks. Not only are the kids benefiting from walking and learning, the school system also benefits as it gets money for each student who shows up.

“The rewards is seeing these kids and getting them to school and seeing that we’re changing numbers and seeing that there are other schools that are getting involved as well. That’s the best thing,” Smith said.

The adventures will continue throughout the school year, keeping kids healthy, but most importantly keeping them in the classroom.

Lewis Lemon principal Steven Francisco says he believes the Walking School Bus Program is definitely working and a positive for the involved kids, He adds that he’s seen a bigger number of students enjoying breakfast in the morning as well.

In a few weeks, the Walking School Bus Program will make its way to the Ellis Arts Academy at West State Street and South Central Avenue. The hope is that the project will eventually involve the other 26 elementary schools in District 205.

Previously: December 5, 2012 -- Written by Lauren Kravets

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Administrators are looking to start a new program to help student walkers get to school safely.

Ten-year-old Dalton Joyner walks to and from school almost every day, but it's not always a peaceful walk.

"The kids in our yards, fighting in front of our houses, in the middle of the street,” said parent, Heather Vecchione.

Those types of scary situations are why Dalton's mother supports a national program, new to District 205, called the walking school bus. Students who live in the same neighborhood all walk to school together, with several adult supervisors.

It's not just bullying and fighting that's a concern, it's the physical walk to school. On one sidewalk across the street from Lewis Lemon Elementary School, there's grass and twigs that cover the sidewalk which can be a major safety concern.

Snow covered-sidewalks will pose another hazard, but the city will work with the district to clear walkways and make sure they're safe. Administrators say the program will also help increase attendance.

"When students aren't getting to school it's often because parents don't have transportation to get them there so we really want to provide resources for families,” said Alex Brewington, Supervisor of Social Work Services.

Vecchione says kids may even meet other students and make new friends.

"It steps outside the boundaries of them going to school not talking to each other and I think it'd be very positive for the community."

The walking school bus would also help with traffic and dangerous neighborhoods. The district will pilot the program at one school after spring break, most likely Lewis Lemon. The Winnebago County Health Department has received a grant to pay for two part-time walkers and a coordinator to get started, but no word yet on how to pay for the program long term.

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