Walking to school has undeniable benefits for mental and physical health. APS has long encouraged use of active transportation and routinely provides resources for families who live within established walk zones. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, APS is encouraging walking and biking to school now more than ever, to support families in existing and expanded walk zones; help reduce demand on school buses; and discourage vehicular traffic around schools when in-school instruction resumes.
Walking School Buses are one way to make walking to school easier for families while maximizing the health benefits of walking for students and reducing congestion and pollution in neighborhoods around schools. A Walking School Bus is defined as a group of students walking to school with one or more adults. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their students to school or as structured as a planned route with meeting points, a timetable and a schedule of trained volunteers.
In preparation for the return to on-campus instruction in the 2020-21 school year, APS has updated, customized and consolidated resources to supporting formation of Walking School Buses through:
- Reaching out to PTAs, school communities and families for input on guidance and resources needed to support formation of Walking School Buses
- Adaptation of existing Walking School Bus resources to comply with social distancing and other COVID-19 guidance
- Development of specific COVID-19 guidelines for Walking School Bus leaders/families
- Sharing of communications templates for school/family outreach
- Coordination with PTA and school community on outreach to families about the benefits of Walking School Buses and resources available to “make it easy” to organize locally
- Technical assistance with start-up and use of maps and route planning resources
- Provision of supplies/equipment to support Walking School Buses (such as fluorescent vests, masks, and encouragement items)
- Possible allocation of Safe Routes to School grant funds to support COVID-related requirements
Resources are now being developed by the Safe Routes Partnership, National Center for Safe Routes to School, Virginia Department of Transportation, and Safe Routes to School coordinators in the DMV to support school transportation during the COVID pandemic. APS is adapting these national, state and regional walking and biking resources to support Walking School Buses, Bike Trains, and other transportation options to ease the return to school in Arlington.