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Students hop aboard the Walking School Bus

By Jackie Lupo
TIM LAMORTE/RIVERTOWNS ENTERPRISE

Students follow a walking school bus route on Main Street on April 14

 

IRVINGTON — Last Thursday, April 14, about 40 Irvington students bound for Dows Lane and Main Street schools hopped on a new transport — the “walking school bus.” Several groups of youngsters, accompanied by parents, walked to school that morning, picking up new “passengers” along pre-planned routes.

More routes are being added to the program, which will continue on Thursday mornings to Dows Lane (grades K-3) and Friday mornings to Main Street (grades 4-5), rain or shine, through June. The Main Street program was shifted to Fridays after last week’s kickoff, when only five students participated due to early-morning extracurricular activities, such as music practice. Such sessions don’t happen on Fridays.

Main Street School starts classes at 8:50 a.m., while Dows Lane begins at 8.

Families who want to get on board as chaperones should e-mail Maura Gedid at Irvingtonsaferoutes@gmail.com. Sign-up is required because there must be enough chaperones for the number of children walking, and there is an educational component to the program, in which participants learn rules about safe walking.

For some of the walkers, the trip was a few blocks long, but for others it was well over a mile. Instead of sitting in long lines of cars in front of their schools, students enjoyed the scenery along Halsey Pond and the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail.

“Nationally, the trend of children walking to school has sunk from 48 percent in ’69 to 13 percent in the late 2000s,” said Gedid, a Dows Lane parent who is the Safe Routes coordinator for the Irvington School District. “There are a lot of factors causing that, but it’s delaying the teaching of a life skill,” she said, referring to what students learn about pedestrian safety and independence by walking to school. “This program is about not just walking, but about teaching that skill.”

Funding for the program came from a Safe Routes to School grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It included $281,776 to the Village for sidewalk improvements, and $36,000 to the school district for educational programming. According to Assistant Superintendent for Business Beverly Miller, the district hired Gedid to create walking and biking programs, to promote them to the school community, and to coordinate the volunteers. The biking component has yet to be developed.

The Walking School Bus is an outgrowth of other local initiatives.

“The police department does presentations to each of the classrooms on safe walking to school,” Miller said. “The Irvington Police Department has done a great job of promoting safe walking for our school district.”

According to Miller, there’s typically a long drop-off line outside Dows Lane. If even 30 cars could be eliminated, she said, “that would be wonderful.” Dropping off at Main Street School can be more problematic because the space for cars to maneuver is tight.

Gedid has a first-grader and a 4-year-old who will be starting kindergarten in September. “I think this is important,” she said. “Those of us that came from the city, particularly, we want to do more walking than we are doing. There is so much research that shows that kids aren’t getting enough recess, and therefore aren’t able to concentrate in school, at the same time that they’re making the work that younger and younger kids are doing more academic. So for their mental health, and the work that they’re doing in school, I think it’s important.”

So far, the response has been enthusiastic, according to Gedid. “We had over 35 kids going to Dows Lane who hadn’t been walking previously,” she said. The goal is to walk on more than one morning per week, and maybe some afternoons.

Rachelle Shapiro’s son Alex is in third grade at Dows Lane and her daughter, Ashley, is in kindergarten. The Shapiros walked down Harriman Road, left on Broadway, and onto Dows Lane. “There were 16 of us in our group and it was awesome,” Shapiro said. “The kids absolutely loved it.” The route is just over a mile long.

Shapiro started off at Hugh Hill Lane near Harriman Road, joining a group that had walked from Legend Hollow, the subdivision between Halsey Pond and Cyrus Field Road. “Alex said, ‘I can’t wait for next Thursday so I can do it again,’” she said. “Ashley thought it was great, and she got to hold the stop sign for the police officer.” She was referring to Det. Michael Toolan, the Irvington Police Department’s youth officer, who was at the event as a parent participant.

Shapiro said she wouldn’t make the long walk every day, “but it was a fun thing to do. If I lived closer, I would consider doing it more often. My son has a Fitbit, and he was tracking his steps.”

Suzie Fromer, whose sons are in second and fourth grades, is on the Wellness Committee for Irvington schools, “so it’s a great synergy,” she said. Fromer is one of the chaperones for her walking group. She and her family live close enough to Main Street School for her fourth-grader, Dannie, to walk there, but her second-grader, Peter, ordinarily takes the bus to Dows Lane. She called the program “great training wheels, and a great way to get exercise to start the morning.”

Fromer said her sons “didn’t feel like it was long at all.” They started at 7:25 and were at Dows Lane before eight.

“It’s funny, she said, “because we passed the bus.”


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April 22, 2016

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