The leaves are falling, the air is crisp and buses of students are excitedly heading to school. While all of these things are typical of fall, what stands out is that the school buses of which I speak are not yellow, motorized or even a physical bus. There is no driver, no vinyl seats, no plumes of black smoke issuing out of the back. These buses are special. These buses are human powered. And this week I had the privilege of attending both a “Walking School Bus” and a “Bike Train” – two great transportation alternatives that are providing students with a healthy, active way to get to school.
The concept behind both modes is essentially the same. A route is planned out, with various stops along the way–much like a regular school bus. Students and adult leaders meet up at the first “stop” and continue along the route to “pick up” other walkers or riders at “stops” most convenient to them. These students then join the pack and continue their commute to school, typically with an adult guiding the pack in the front, one anchoring the group at the end and other adults floating around to make sure everyone stays together and safe.
What I found most refreshing about these “buses” is how excited all the students were, and how energized they seemed when they arrived at school. The bike train was full of chatter, movement and spirit as we wound our way around the neighborhood. Passers-by acted as cheerleaders and the faces of the students lit up as they heard “go bikers!” or “yay bike train” over and over again.
When the walking school bus made it to school, feet tokens were given out and punch cards stamped to signal how many weeks each walker had participated. There was a real feel of accomplishment and pride with each student who got a stamp.
Both, the walking school bus and the bike train, are a great way to start a student’s day. Each and every participant was awake and alert by the time they got to school, not to mention the camaraderie and sense of achievement they exchanged while either locking up their bikes or getting their cards stamped. In my mind, these bus alternatives really are the best of both worlds–a great way to get out, get active and be social, while also getting safely to school.