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Crooked River Elementary, the local health department and Commute Options partner to offer free program two days a week

PHOTO COURTESY OF COMMUTE OPTIONS - Students participate in a Walking School Bus with an adult leader. Commute Options, the Crook County Health Department, and Crooked River Elementary have partnered to offer the free program in Prineville.

Do school buses walk and roll?

In Crook County, they sure do.

Starting this month, Crooked River Elementary students will be able to "hop on" a Walking School Bus and not only get some fresh air and exercise but be able to socialize on the way to school.

The Walking School Bus program is a group of students walking to and from school on a planned route two days per week with one or more adult leader.

"While the program teaches students pedestrian safety and offers physical activity to be active, it can also reduce traffic congestion at the school," explained Adam Hostetter, an Americorps VISTA with the Crook County Health Department, who is taking on this project.

This isn't the first time CRE has offered a Walking School Bus option.

In the spring of 2017, Abby Leibowitz, an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Crook County Health Department, took on the project. Trained adult volunteers walked with CRE students who lived within a 1-mile radius of the school. However, the program only operated Wednesday mornings for two months.

This time around, the health department tasked Hostetter, who became a VISTA in August, to work with CRE and the nonprofit Commute Options to offer the program.

Commute Options Walking School Bus Coordinator Kersey Marion said CRE was chosen in collaboration with the Crook County Health Department because previous efforts have been made to bring a Walking School Bus to CRE.

"Concerns regarding congestion around the school have been raised by the community," she said, adding that CRE Principal Kimberly Bonner was very excited to offer the program to families. "When promoting the program at Back to School Night, parents and students were excited to be able to add physical activity to their days."

Walking School Bus Leader Whitney Crenshaw begins the route at Davidson Field at 7:25 a.m. each Monday and Friday.

Everyone is invited to join the program. Students who live along the route can join, and students who live further away can be dropped off at the meeting location for a park and walk option, Marion explained.

Students will walk along the sidewalk on East First Street, go down Knowledge Street, onto Southeast Second Street, and to their school.

The complete walk takes 20 to 25 minutes. Students who live along the route may "hop on" the bus when it reaches their home. Parents may also drop their students off for part of the route.

After school, students meet at the flag pole in front of the building and walk to their homes along the way or back to Davidson Field, where they can be picked up.

Students can participate as a pedestrian or bring their scooter or skateboard.

"We walk in rain, snow and sunshine. If school is open, then we will be walking," Marion said, noting that Commute Options will contact families if any changes are made.

"We are planning to take winter into account," Hostetter said. "I've been in contact with a few organizations to reference whenever a child shows up and doesn't have winter clothing that's necessary."

Based in Bend, Commute Options is a regional nonprofit that promotes alternative transportation over driving and manages the free Walking School Bus program regionally. They are implementing the program in 20 elementary and middle schools in the region.

Central Oregon Health Council's Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes Prevention Workgroup funded this new Commute Options program.

Funds cover the wages of the Walking School Bus leaders as well as the bright yellow safety vests that they wear.

Leaders can have as many as 15 students on their walk, but if they have more, then additional adult volunteers are required to walk along.

"It would be very helpful to have additional volunteers. If we have more volunteers, we can handle more kids," Hostetter pointed out.

Marion said they are excited to have the opportunity to employ the Walking School Bus leaders.

"As far as we have been able to find, we are the only program in the country hiring and paying our leaders," she said. "This brings new employment opportunities to Central Oregon and engages community members with our students."

With the Walking School Bus, CRE students are provided an opportunity to make new friends, learn pedestrian safety tips, and increase their physical activity, Marion said.

"Another reason that they wanted to restart the program was to help reduce traffic congestion at the elementary school, which I know has been a big issue for the last couple of years," Hostetter said.

Those interested in joining the Walking School Bus must register. Forms are available in the CRE office and online on the Commute Options website.

"I encourage students to join the Walking School Bus to implement healthy habits into their daily lives. Active transportation provides opportunities to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. There is great possibility to build a community with this program," Marion said. "Walking and rolling to school together can teach students the importance of pedestrian safety and getting to know your classmates."

Sidebar

Walking School Bus

Crooked River Elementary students may sign up by filling out a form at the school office or online at www.CommuteOptions.org.

Steps to become a safe pedestrian

Stop at the edge of the curb.

Look left, right, and left again.

Wait for all vehicles to stop completely.

Cross when it's clear.

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