Walking school bus promotes activity, community

A new transit option at Mississippi Elementary School, Coon Rapids, keeps students active, traffic out of the school parking lot and community members in contact.

Parent volunteer Amy Norquist leads neighborhood children to Mississippi Elementary School Tuesday morning. This walking school bus is one of three developing at the school. Photo by Olivia Koester

Parent volunteer Amy Norquist leads neighborhood children to Mississippi Elementary School Tuesday morning. This walking school bus is one of three developing at the school. Photo by Olivia Koester

The walking school bus is a new vehicle kids can take to school in the morning. On foot, parent volunteers make regular, scheduled stops to pick up other children in the neighborhood.

Currently, one walking school bus is operating regularly, each Tuesday morning. Two other routes are mapped out, but still developing.

Amy Norquist, parent of two Mississippi students, dons a reflective vest, grabs a hand-held stop sign and chaperones area kids on their way to school each Tuesday.

Norquist walks with her children every day and would be open to operating the bus more than once a week if and when there is interest.

“Walking to school gets your brain going,” Norquist said.

The bus sometimes runs early – a rare issue in transportation – because the young passengers want to sneak in some playground time before class.

Numbers are steadily growing each Tuesday. The first week, Norquist walked with her own kids, but by Sept. 17, three adults and four students had joined at the various stops.

Lori Ubl used to drive her grandson to school every day, but at the end of last year, they began walking with Norquist’s family. “Now we walk every day to and from school,” she said as the bus scooted down 108th Lane on Tuesday.

“It does help get your motor running in the morning,” Ubl said.

Support from a Statewide Health Improvement Program grant sparked the project, more conceptually than financially, according to Mississippi Principal Mark Hansen.

Mississippi’s walking school buses are modeled after those in the Minneapolis School District, Hansen said.

People living a few blocks away sometimes drive to school, unnecessarily clogging the parking lot, he said.

An attempt to cut down on traffic and pollution is one aim of the program, but promoting physical activity for the kids and adults, as well as fostering a stronger sense of community are key goals, Hansen said.

Walking school buses at Mississippi are a pilot project for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, Director of Transportation Keith Paulson said.

“We hope that it gains traction,” he said.

But there are no plans to bring walking school buses to each and every elementary school in District 11, Paulson said.

Walking school buses travel only in areas where there are no extraordinary traffic hazards, and to walk to some schools would require crossing busy streets or railroad tracks, for example.

Both Hansen and Paulson emphasize the importance of parent volunteers and interest for the project’s success.

For more information, contact Hansen at 763-506-3501 or email Mark.Hansen@anoka.k12.mn.us.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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