TARPON SPRINGS — Citizens Alliance for Progress has found a keeper with one of its initiatives this year.
Getting on board with a growing national trend, the nonprofit community outreach organization implemented a “walking school bus” program this year that proved to be a hit with both students and adult supervisors.
Walking school buses allow groups of students to gather and walk safely either to or from school with one or more adults leading the way. Versions of this service are operated all over the world, including one funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In Tarpon Springs this year, CAP provided a walking school bus to 10 to 18 Tarpon Springs Elementary students each school day. “Drivers,” as the adults who supervise each walk are called, would lead the group to CAP’s Union Academy Family Center to complete homework or other educational programs.
According to CAP Program Director Carmen Wilson, the drivers make sure the group stays on schedule and walkers feel and stay safe.
“We look out for the other students who are walking as well; not just the ones attending CAP’s After School Program,” said Wilson, who served as one of this year’s drivers, along with math tutor Antoine Sullivan and literary specialist Benita Jackson.
Wilson wrote in an email that the students wait outside the elementary school to be picked up. The pace is brisk and students chat with each other or residents along the route, she wrote.
“Some of the students are just as enthused about walking as the bus drivers because it’s a good work out for them,” Jackson said.
Students are rewarded from time to time with ice cream, a treat, and/or a book or other item if they walk regularly and behave as prescribed in the rules of the Academic Enhancement Program/After School Program. Parents give approval for their child or children to walk.
Wilson said the pilot walking school bus program can be used to promote a healthier, more resilient community. The extra exercise can help children stay fit and the walks allow adult supervisors to get to know students and stay abreast of any behavioral issues that may be arising.
CAP intends to operate its walking school bus again next school year and is recruiting volunteer drivers. Individuals interested in joining the program next fall can call (727) 934-5881.