By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
POTTSTOWN >> The Rupert Elementary School’s walking bus program received an environmental award for taking steps to improve air quality.
The Pottstown School District was one of five organizations to receive the 2017 Air Quality Partnership Excellence Award from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). Each year, DVRPC honors local initiatives that are using practices to reduce air pollution. Members of the committee that made this year’s selections for the award visited Pottstown last Thursday during Air Quality Awareness Week to present Rupert Elementary School with a plaque.
Sean Greene, DVRPC air quality programs manager, said the Montgomery County Health Department nominated the walking school bus for the award. He said after hearing what the walking program was all about, the committee was more than excited about all the healthy aspects of it. Greene said the walking program hits three important things which are safety, health and air quality.
The walking school bus operates in a similar way to a traditional bus except students use their feet to get to school instead of wheels. Adult volunteers from the surrounding community walk children to school using predetermined safe routes. The routes have “bus stops” where students wait to join the walking group. The Pottstown program is in its second year with an average of about 50 students joining the walking bus each day.
“Unfortunately, too often we see parents driving their kids literally down their driveway and sitting in an idling car waiting for the school bus to pull up. They’re not having that experience of walking and getting the fresh air,” said James Rebarchak, the environmental program manager of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Southeast Regional Office.
Rebarchak said Pottstown is becoming a “vibrant” walkable community and he hopes the ideas of the program will stay with students during their time at home. He said hopefully the children will start requesting to walk to more places instead of automatically making the decision to drive. Rebarchak said it’s important that kids learn there are alternative forms of transportation.
“The kids are getting their parents to think outside of the car,” he said.
Rupert Elementary School Principal Matt Moyer said the walking bus program started as a healthy and safe way parents could get their kids to school. He said the environmental benefit is a bonus.
“It’s just a win, win, win all around,” he said.
Moyer said it’s the work of the district’s wellness coordinator David Genova and the adult volunteers that help make the walking bus a success.
“You got to get a huge volunteer base,” he said adding that Genova has done an excellent job of finding community members to volunteer their time and walk children.
“Some of them volunteer their time because it’s their way to get their walk in every day, it’s their exercise. Some of them volunteer their time because they love Pottstown. They love the kids. Whatever their reasons, they take time every day. They don’t get paid a dime and they walk kids to school,” Moyer said.
Genova said many of the adult volunteers who started with the program last year continue to volunteer for this year’s walking bus.
“They obviously see value in the program which is great,” he said.
Moyer said the walking bus program is just one of the many other wellness initiatives at Rupert Elementary School and throughout the district. He said classes are designed around movement such as by using physical activity during brain breaks and stability balls for sitting.
Dawn Batman, the Montgomery County Health Department supervisor and acting director of the division of health promotion, said the Pottstown School District has become a model for other schools throughout the county. Batman said she hears concerns from schools about the high obesity rates and difficulty of getting children to focus while learning. The health department uses Pottstown as an example for those schools.
“This is what Pottstown does. This is what’s working for them,” Batman said is what they tell other schools working to implement wellness initiatives.