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Walking School Bus Program Debuts at Gaston Elementary

Gaston Elementary School is one of several schools and organizations in Rock County receiving mini-grants for a walking school bus program. According to the official news release, the mini-grant awards up to $1,000 “for startup costs such as staff time, supplies, or advertising.”

The Rock County Health Department and the Health Equity Alliance of Rock County (HEAR) formed a partnership to pilot this program that would involve staff, parents, and other trusted volunteers walking children to and from school on a set route.

A Community Health Assessment distributed in 2021 highlighted that mental health is a community need in Beloit, according to Christine Gunn, Public Health Specialist at Rock County Health Department. The walking school bus grant is a response to this and part of the 2022-2024 Community Health Improvement Plan.

“Some things that can positively impact mental health are exercise and feeling connected to others,” Gunn said. “The walking school bus is a great combination of these two things and can be done on a local level promoting community connections.”

The walking school bus program allows schools to support nearby parents in a big way. There are many families that live close to the school building, but can’t personally take their child to school for a variety of reasons. The introduction of a program where trusted volunteers can escort children to school will help put parents at ease and introduce students to adults in their community that they can turn to in times of need.

Fonda Lewis, Principal of Gaston Elementary school, praised the program for promoting physical activity and wellness in children, but for her, the biggest draw was increasing student attendance.

“We know that in order for students to reach their academic achievements, they have to be at school,” Lewis said.

The set routes are within three blocks of Gaston Elementary School, so close by children will arrive at school refreshed and excited from their walk.

Lewis predicted that the program will be implemented after spring break in late March, or possibly even sooner. The pilot launch of the program premiering this spring will likely require some tweaks and a fully realized version will premiere in the fall of 2023.

Gaston Elementary officials are excited to welcome this new opportunity, and encourage both physical exercise and social interaction for their students on the way to school. Gaston is currently the only school participating in the pilot program this school year, but Rock County Health Department hopes to expand their partnerships with more schools next year.

Source: Beloit Daily News