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Racine school implements walking school bus program

May 11, 2019
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In this Friday, May 3, 2019 photo, Knapp Elementary School walking bus volunteer Mike Bus lends his gloves to "bus" rider and second-grade student Jamarion Kitten on Friday, May 3, 2019, in Racine, Wis. Through the walking bus program, adult volunteers walk to students' homes and pick them up and then chaperone them as they walk to school, the Racine Journal Times reported. (Caitlin Sieverts/The Journal Times via AP)

RACINE, Wis. (AP) — Just after twilight each Friday, when the neighborhood is still mostly asleep, three volunteers meet at Knapp Elementary School and head to pick up their first passenger on the so-called walking school bus.

Plans for a walking bus at Knapp have been in the works for a while but the school finally started doing the route roughly five weeks ago. Through the walking bus program, adult volunteers walk to students’ homes and pick them up and then chaperone them as they walk to school, the Racine Journal Times reported.

“If we want to meet our educational goals, we’ve got to get our kids to school,” said Jamie Racine, community schools manager for United Way of Racine County. “If this is one way we can achieve that, I’m all for it.”

The school, Racine Unified’s first and, to date, only community school, found its riders by contacting parents of chronically absent students in kindergarten through second grade and asking them to sign up for the bus, if interested. Knapp is a 100% walking school, which means none of its students live far enough away — more than 1.9 miles — to receive free bus service from the district. Most of them walk to the school on their own.

Racine believes that the walking bus is especially helpful to young families who might have a baby at home and struggle to get their kindergarten-age child off to school in the morning.

The bus program is starting out small, with eight “riders” who are accompanied to Knapp, by the volunteers who start their bus trip at about 6 a.m. each Friday and make an almost two-mile round-trip jaunt.

When school officials attempted to start a walking bus program last year, it failed to find enough volunteers to chaperone, but was finally able to start the bus after some volunteers came forward this spring. Current volunteers are Jamie Racine, Rachael Bollens, program coordinator for Focus on Community which does programming at Knapp, and community member Mike Baus. Baus volunteered after reading an article in The Journal Times about a walking bus program in Milwaukee that mentioned the need for volunteers at Knapp.

“The kids seem like they appreciate us coming by,” Baus said. “Some are more enthusiastic than others.”

During a walk on a recent Friday, when the temperature was a chilly 40 degrees, Baus lent his gloves to the bus’s first rider, second grader Ja’mariyon Kitt.

Racine said that Ja’mariyon obviously looks forward to the walking bus, having checked in with her earlier to make sure she’d be coming by that day.

“They pick me up in the morning so I don’t keep going back to sleep,” Ja’mariyon said.

On a recent walk, the volunteers and students chatted about video games, movies and what they did over spring break.

“They’re tired, so we try to help wake them up and get them ready for the day,” Racine said.

The bus entourage typically arrives at Knapp at about 7 a.m., when the school’s doors open and a group of children waiting outside stream in for breakfast.

The walking bus group typically does a race to the main entrance or high-fives before heading inside to start the school day.

“It’s so much fun,” Bollens said. “I think the kids love it.”

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Information from: The Journal Times, http://www.journaltimes.com