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The Built Environment

Walking to School (and to Better Health)

Suzy Blevins (Communities in Schools Coordinator) and Tara FitzPatrick (Safe Routes to School Coordinator) “drive” the Walking School Bus to Fairfield Elementary.

If you stop by Fairfield Court on a weekday morning, you may find a conglomerate of elementary-school aged children meandering and playing on their way to school. Some children keep to themselves, quietly observing their surroundings and noticing the flowers that are starting to bloom in the early May weather. Others vivaciously greet each other and catch up on everything that has happened since they’ve last spoke. The children are accompanied by volunteers and staff in blue vests, who play part-time crossing guard by yielding traffic and assisting children in crossing streets and part-time mentor through developing warm relationships with the children.

“It’s kind of like their pre-party session before school so it gets them excited to really go to school,” describes Briana Harris, Volunteer and VCU Social Work Student.

This group came together through the federally funded Safe Routes to School program, which encourages children of all abilities to walk or bike to school with the goals of creating a transportation alternative that encourages a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age. Adults can volunteer to “drive” the Walking School Bus; they have a route where they walk from house to house picking up children to assist them in walking to school. In Fairfield, the Walking School Bus is led by Suzy Blevins, Communities in Schools (CIS) Coordinator, and consistent volunteers. The program is also popping up in several communities, including Lincoln Mews and Oak Grove.

The Safe Routes to School Walking School Bus program offers benefits to the children, their families and teachers, and the wider community. Children get a healthy dose of physical activity to start their days. They also learn and practice lifelong habits of commuting in a more environmentally friendly way. But perhaps most important and unexpected, children are given an opportunity to transition between home and school and are given opportunities for social development.

“The biggest thing is always… about the relationships that get built on the Walking School Bus – between the children and also between the adults who facilitate the Walking School Bus and the kids,” explains CIS Coordinator Suzy Blevins, “the students are looking to establish relationships with caring adults and to be seen and heard.”

Children say goodbye to Briana Harris on her last day volunteering for the Walking School Bus.

To get involved in a Safe Routes to School Walking School Bus within Richmond City, contact Tara FitzPatrick at tara@grfit4kids.org.

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