A 'walking school bus' makes its way to Ciolegrove School in 2016.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — If you see large groups of children walking through town on Wednesday morning, don't panic.
No, not every school bus is broken. It's just "Walk to School Day" at the city of North Adams' three elementary schools as well as at Williamstown Elementary School. And so the students will be making their very own "walking school bus" to get to and from school on Wednesday, Oct. 4.
"International Walk to School" events work to create safer routes for walking and bicycling and emphasize the importance of increasing physical activity among children, pedestrian safety, alleviating traffic congestion, concern for the environment and building connections between families, schools and the broader community, according to Amanda Chilson, the Mass in Motion coordinator for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.
Chilson said last year Colgrove Elementary School participated in a walk-to-school program as a celebration for its first year, but officials decided to expand it this year to all three elementary schools. Participating in the national "Safe Routes to School" program allowed the city to have "safety audits" completed on the schools to identify the challenges and assets for safe pedestrians. For example, she said, Colgrove has some safety concerns with the bus loops in the driveway, while Greylock School is in a neighborhood and has plenty of sidewalks leading to the school.
"Each of them has their own safe assets and their own challenges," she said.
To make this city-wide initiative work, Chilson organized several "walking school bus" paths to each school. Maps are available on the event's Facebook page.
"Kids gather at the end and just kind of join the group," she said. "Safety in numbers."
That's also the philosophy in Williamstown, where parent Lindsay Neathawk is organizing two meeting places for students who can't safely get to school on their own: at the base of Spring Street and at Cole Field, where there are no hills or significant street crossings. The Williamstown Police Department will be helping, and there will be crossing guards. Groups will gather at 7:50 a.m.
In North Adams, the police also will be involved, as well as local "celebrities" like Mayor Richard Alcombright and city councilors, who will join the students on their walk. Parents are also welcome and are also invited to stay for breakfast with their children, since all North Adams students receive free breakfast at school.
Chilson said last year's event at Colgrove went well and she is eager to see it expand to all of the schools.
"This will be a learning year," she said. "We worked hard to really plan those routes."
Most importantly, she hopes setting one day aside to encourage walking to school will help change the narrative about how kids get to school the other 179 days of the school year. Benefits include not only getting kids more physically active but also offering leadership opportunities for the older students to look out for the you get students as well as offering social times for both kids and parents.
"It's brought up a lot of health and wellness info in general," she said. "It's helping to build a more sustainable approach to health and wellness.
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