About one year ago, Canada Bay Club contributed to a fantastic new method of delivering children to and from their local public school. Sick of navigating busy main roads? Trying to find a car spot close to school? Read on to discover how Victoria Avenue Public School in Concord West has made a major difference to drop-off and pick-up times for parents.
Q What’s a Walking Bus?
A Let’s start at the very beginning. A walking school bus is not a bus powered by feet, Flintstones style. A walking school bus is powered by good old-fashioned legwork in a group of primary school children who walk to and from school along a safe and enjoyable predetermined route accompanied by a minimum of two parent/driver supervisors per ‘bus’. One parent drives at the front of the bus; another parent supervises at the rear. Additional parents may be needed depending on requirements and the amount of passengers being picked up at the designated ‘bus stops’.
Q Who is behind this initiative?
A Concord West’s Victoria Avenue Public School initially began an informal walking bus with a group of a few parents preferring to walk their kids to school instead of driving through traffic on Concord Road or Homebush Bay Drive. Early last year, Canada Bay Council was promoting the concept of the Walking School Bus at Victoria Avenue Public School. This seemed like such a great idea, and a way to encourage families to avoid using their cars and opt to let their children walk to school instead.
The council coordinated the establishment of the Liberty Grove Walking Bus, providing the school with information packs, ordering high-visibility vests, water bottles, first aid bags and so on. Plus, resources were needed for such items as the traffic management plan, bus stop designs and volunteer training for road safety and first aid. This was all purchased through the funding provided by Canada Bay Club. The bus is now run under the auspices of the school’s Parent & Citizen Association. It’s fully managed by parents and operates every school day, rain (with brollies and raincoats!), hail or shine.
Q How does the walking bus work?
A The bus operates every weekday for drop off and pick up. The starting point is Bradley Park in Liberty Grove. Children assemble every morning. One volunteer leads the bus; another walks behind all the children. A few children join along the way at different ‘bus stops’. On reaching school, the children are handed over to the school warden. In the afternoon, the children assemble at school and walk back to Bradley Park, where their guardians pick them up. Parent coordinators continually update schedules, as well as volunteers for the day.
Communication is managed through a WhatsApp Group, which is the lifeline of the bus. It shares absentees, casual bus attendees and replacement volunteers and is also used for live updates on the bus’ status, such as departures, approaching bus stops and finishing of the bus.
‘Bus drivers’ are trained to keep children safe, such as scanning for risks at crossings, sharing pedestrian paths with mums with prams, the elderly and kids on bicycles and scooters. Bus drivers also learn how to supervise the children and now greatly appreciate what schoolteachers contend with on a daily basis!
Q How did you establish the most advantageous route for the community?
A Several routes were initially identified, then the safest route that benefitted most families was selected. The council conducted a road safety audit to identify risk areas. Then parents created risk mitigation plans to ensure safe walking. The high-visibility vests, as well as ‘children crossing’ signs
, are used effectively to keep the bus safe. Rules such as ‘no talking while crossing’ have been reinforced with the children.
Q Approximately how many children attend the walking bus daily?
A Currently 31 children are enrolled for the bus, but on average there are 12-15 attending each route.
Q Do the children enjoy this method of travel?
A Children love the walking bus! They’ve formed good friendships, and they find a brisk walk with parks and fountains very enjoyable. Sometimes the whole bus is playing a game or singing a song.
Q Have you seen any benefits?
A The obvious benefits are physical fitness of both the children and the volunteers. When the bus first began, children felt tired by the time they walked home after a full day at school. Most could not carry their own school bags for the duration of the walk. Over the first few months, the children became stronger and faster. Now all the children carry their own bags and are able to walk at a brisk pace. Sometimes grandparents or siblings join in, too.
The group has bonded as its own community, with many get-togethers, picnics and cultural celebrations throughout the year. Typically at the end of each term, when they walk home on a Friday afternoon, the children find Bradley Park decorated with balloons and colourful picnic tables laid out with delicious after-school snacks. On these occasions they’re rewarded for their excellent walking with small stickers or toys.
Q What’s next?
A We’re trying to establish the George Street Route but we need to find sufficient parents willing to volunteer to make that happen. â¯
For more information about how to establish a Walking School Bus in your own community, search the term ‘walking school bus’ or visit these websites: