It is an unusual sight to see children in the Emma Community decked out in their school gear, walking along the sidewalk in a straight line, flanked by adults. What makes it unique is that sidewalks are still just a few months old and still somewhat of a novelty for the residents of the Emma Community in West Asheville. The children were participating in a Walking School Bus training session facilitated by Children First/Communities In Schools Sidewalk Coordinator, Nancy Nunez. Through a grant from Safer Routes to School and assistance from the City of Asheville, Children First/Communities In Schools, a local nonprofit, was able to hire a sidewalk coordinator to help train the parents and children on proper sidewalk safety and help organize a Walking School Bus.
According to The National Center for Safe Routes to School, a Walking School Bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. For many parents, safety concerns are one of the primary reasons they are reluctant to allow their children to walk to school. Providing adult supervision may help reduce those worries and meet the needs of families who live within walking or bicycling distance of school. “The families are so excited about the sidewalks,” says Nunez. “The momentum has really built up and I have so many parents asking me questions about when are there going to be even more sidewalks built.”
Children and adults from 30 families gathered to join in the Walking School Bus training session. They learned about sidewalk safety, how to walk safely with one or more children and how to properly cross the street. “These sidewalks have made such a big difference in our lives,” says a mother with her young daughter in tow. “I live only a few blocks away from the elementary school, but my other children had to ride the bus for over an hour last year. Now my daughter can walk with the other neighborhood children and be at school in minutes.”
The many benefits of a Walking School Bus include daily exercise, less time getting to and from school, an opportunity to foster healthy habits, a chance to learn about safety with adult guidance and time to socialize with friends. “Transportation has always been a huge obstacle in the Emma community and we’re proud of the supporting role Children First/Communities In Schools has played over the years to help advocate for sidewalks,” stated Allison Jordan, Executive Director of Children First/ Communities In Schools. The sight of so many pedestrians walking along the sidewalk even had a positive affect on traffic, as cars slowed down to honk and wave to the passing parade of school children.