Walking School Bus program coming to 30 schools in Waterloo region

The Walking School Bus Program, an initiative by the Canadian Cancer Society, will be coming to 30 schools in Waterloo region after it was piloted at three schools in Ontario in the 2016-2017 school year.

3 schools in Ontario piloted the program in the 2016-2017 school year, including Wellesley Public School

A decrease in the quality of parent-child relationships, screen time and lack of play are some of the forces leading to an increase in child anxiety, according to child psychologist Tammy Schamuhn. (Shutterstock)

Foot traffic around schools will increase as the Walking School Bus (WSB) program will be coming to 30 schools in Waterloo region in the near future. 

The program aims to get students in the same area to walk to school or back home under the supervision of a volunteer while following a dedicated route with scheduled stops.

Susan Flynn, senior manager of cancer prevention for the Candian Cancer Society (CCS), said the program was introduced by CCS in Ontario in 2015 and was piloted at three schools in the 2016-2017 school year.

In December 2017, the CCS announced it will receive $246,800 over three years to implement the program in 30 schools across Waterloo region.

"The reason why we chose [Waterloo region] is because they have a very strong school travel planning group working with schools on how to ensure that the children arrive to school safely," Flynn told CBC News.

"Schools get to determine different programs that they think will work well in terms of supporting children to get to school. One of them that the schools often identify is a Walking School Bus program."

Wellesley Public School was one of three schools to pilot the WSB program in the 2016-2017 school year. ((Shutterstock))

Wellesley Public School

Wellesley Public School was one of three schools to pilot the WSB program in the 2016-2017 school year.

Former vice principal Andrew Beddoe said they wanted to pilot the program to address the growing number of vehicles on school property.

"It actually stemmed from a safety perspective," Beddoe told CBC's The Morning Edition. 

The school had two dedicated routes that volunteers and students living in Wellesley followed in the mornings. He noted that volunteers went through a great deal of training in terms of safety.

However, Beddoe said that piloting the program in a rural community was challenging.

"It was a good choice to start with a smaller community but I would say that it's more of a program that is suited for an urban setting because you have the volunteer base and the number of people available," he said.

'Sense of community'

Beddoe said the pilot program brought the community at Wellesley Public School closer.

Students were also alert and "ready to learn" and staff saw fewer safety issues in the school parking lot.

"There was a sense of community," Beddoe said. "We had people who were involved that may not have been involved in any other activity at the school."

Flynn added the program also benefits student's health.

"The reason why we have chosen to work with children walking to school is because it's a wonderful opportunity to get 20 minutes of physical activity once or twice a day," she said. 

"We know only nine per cent of children and youth aged 15 to 17 are getting that recommended amount of physical activity."

Flynn said CCS will work with local partners in Waterloo, Wellington and Dufferin, including the public and Catholic school boards.

The Waterloo Region Student Transportation Services, the Waterloo Region Block Parent program and public health will also be part of implementing the WSB program in schools.