By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
POTTSTOWN >> Employees from area businesses are being asked to work it out in more ways than one. They are invited are invited to get on the bus — the walking school bus, that is.
The Pottstown School District is starting a “walking school bus” comprised of a group of trained volunteers who walk children to school on predetermined routes. The walking program will begin with Rupert Elementary School in the fall, and is expected to expand to other elementary schools next year.
Rupert students will begin walking on the bus Oct. 7, which also happens to be International Walk to School Day. The “bus” will run five days a week, mornings only. The program is starting at Rupert because that school has the most students traveling the furthest distances to school as a result of Pottstown closing Edgewood Elementary School two years ago.
Students in the district that live within 1.5 miles of their school don’t get bussed. Buses no longer come to Rupert, since the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation determined High Street wasn’t a “hazardous roadway.”
Before children can get on board, volunteers are needed to “drive the bus,” said David Genova, wellness coordinator for the district and walking bus program.
Genova said he’s reaching out to businesses that have worksite wellness programs and to those that want to promote a healthy lifestyle for their employees.
“I think it would be beneficial to the business to get their employees physically active before work,” he said adding that the activity would help people be productive throughout the work day.
To help get the bus moving, the Pottstown School District is creating a team of employee volunteers.
“We have to represent and support what we are trying to do at Rupert,” he said.
Pamela Bateson, the district’s director for special education and student services, will be one of the employees volunteering.
“It’s an opportunity to do something different, fun and get me up and moving,” she said.
Bateson said she spends a lot of her workday behind a desk and sitting in meetings so volunteering will keep her active. She walked regularly as a child to and from school and thinks the bus will be a healthy opportunity for students.
Mindy MacRone-Wojton, the school district’s occupational therapist, is another employee who will volunteer on the walking bus. MacRone-Wojton said health and wellness is part of her work philosophy.
“I just really like to promote healthy lifestyles and fitness,” she said.
A few years ago, she did a survey with district parents and asked what kept their family from healthy activities. The top three reasons were expenses, not enough time and safety concerns. MacRone-Wojton said the walking school bus addresses all of these concerns.
“I think it’s a great opportunity and it gives the kids a safe method of getting to school,” she said adding that it will also decrease traffic congestion and pollution around the school.
MacRone-Wojton said she’s also excited to be a volunteer because it will give her an opportunity to build relationships with students.
Genova said the walking school bus is another way for businesses to get more involved in the community while being healthy at the same time.
“It would be a great corporate responsibility,” he said.
The walking school bus will include four routes to Rupert Elementary with a minimum of four volunteers needed for each route, every morning. Each route will take volunteers a total of about one hour; 30 minutes to walk the children to school and 30 minutes to walk back. The walking bus begins in October then will be suspended for the months of January and February to evaluate the program. It will resume in March and will run until the end of the school year.
Genova said he envisions each business having volunteers walk on one specific day every week. For example, school district employees could take Mondays and would be responsible for about one hour of walking each week or four hours a month. He said volunteering would help employees be healthier and feel better.
“I know there are people out there that have a hard time getting 60 minutes of physical activity every day,” Genova said, adding that walking bus could be a solution
For businesses and employees interested in becoming a walking school bus volunteer, contact David Genova at the email firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 610-763-1466.