ELLSWORTH — Building on a successful experience this spring, the walking school bus program will soon be resuming at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School (EEMS) — and possibly expanding as well.
The program, in which students walk to school under the eyes of trained, volunteer adult chaperones, will start up again on Wednesday, Sept. 16. The existing route runs from the corner of Hancock and Pine streets to School Street and then State Street. From there it turns onto Shore Street and then Pond Avenue before arriving at the school. The entire route is about a mile long.
Dave Norwood, the K-4 physical education teacher at EEMS, is the coordinator of the walking school bus program. He said the initial run of the program in May and June was “terrific.”
“It was what we hoped it would be,” he said, adding that the families whose children participated “loved” the program.
He said teachers whose students took part in the walking school bus reported the children had more energy than students who arrived at school via a motorized bus.
The students also had greater physical endurance as they walked more, and Norwood said the students took pride in the fact they were walking to school.
Kids in the YMCA’s before-school program at the Moore Community Center got on the walking school bus as it made its way up State Street, joining the ranks of those who had already boarded the bus earlier on the route.
Norwood said he is looking to add a second walking school bus route. Right now, based on inquiries from parents, he is focused on the east side of Oak Street. That includes Birch, Park, Parcher and Spring streets.
Expanding to a second route would mean parents in those areas would need to sign up their students to participate in the program. Norwood said notices will soon be going out to families in that area, letting them know about the program and explaining how they can sign up their children (essentially, by letting Norwood know — his email is [email protected])
Most importantly, however, Norwood said he would need a dozen volunteers signed up and trained to ensure there are adequate adult volunteers.
He said the training process is simple and only takes about 30-40 minutes. He said it involves a basic background check (the school covers the cost of that) and a short presentation that he gives.
“I can do it anytime,” he said of the training process for adult volunteers. “Whenever’s convenient for them.”
Norwood said the minimum requirement for volunteers is to do one day a week (the bus only operates in the morning), but they can do as many days as they want or are able to do.
Norwood said volunteers carry a first aid kit with them as well as contact information for the parents of children taking part.
Adults interested in volunteering for the program can also contact Norwood by email, or by calling the school at 667-6241.
The walking school bus program is a statewide partnership between the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.
Ellsworth got a $5,000 grant earlier this year, which covers the cost of a stipend for Norwood, materials for the program and the training for the volunteers.