Like much of the working world, instead of working FOR the weekend, we often end up working ON the weekend. Turns out, service isn’t all that different from an actual job. Who knew?! Just kidding…
I recently spent a Saturday attending the annual Safe Routes to School Meeting in Des Moines with our Northeast Iowa SRTS leader, Ashley Christensen. Ashley gave a great presentation about all of the progressive work we’re doing in NE Iowa, and I was invited to speak about what the North Fayette Valley School District has accomplished with their Safe Routes to School efforts. NFV has tremendous parent and community support with their active living activities, and the volunteers are the driving (or walking) force behind our success.
The other communities that were represented at the meeting were all urban and much larger school districts. Even though our remote locations and extensive travel between school buildings seem like major road blocks, cities have an extremely tough time organizing and implementing Walking School Buses. Many struggle to attract interest or commitment from parents and students. Remote drop-off locations are a common theme in some of these areas, not unlike our area, to make the most convenient and cohesive route. Regardless of community or school district size, we are having some GREAT success with SRTS in Iowa!
One of the discussion topics amongst groups was how to keep Walking School Bus participants involved over time, as it does take more time and effort to coordinate walking to school. Some groups in the state use plastic charms for shoelaces as incentive, others involve local celebrities, invite policemen and firemen to join a WSB, award certificates at the end of the walking season, give out stickers or small prizes for walkers, or offer healthy snacks donated by local grocery stores. I think it might be fun to have themed days while walking as well: crazy hat day, neon day, jersey day, crazy sock day, etc. It’s exciting and re-energizing to meet with other groups from around the state to collaborate and share ideas.
In regards to consistent and established SRTS, our region is leaps and bounds ahead of other communities. Decorah even had the first Walking School Bus in the state! Northeast Iowa’s six-county region is THE rural model for SRTS work. We are doing things that no other region in the state, or even the country, is doing! I’m so proud to be part of SRTS efforts in Northeast Iowa and be able to help North Fayette Valley continue their Walking School Bus program.
Keep walking, kids!