Walking school bus is back

Published 11:15 am Friday, April 9, 2010

The Lakeview Locomotive walking school bus started Tuesday and the kids couldn’t be more excited

“You get to run around and get all your energy out,” 11-year-old Sam Chalmers said.

That is the hope of those coordinating the walking school bus, and the main goal is to get kids and volunteers active.

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“You get to get some fresh air and spend more time outside,” 8-year-old Maddie Heinz said. “A lot of kids walk so you can talk with friends that aren’t in your grade.”

The kids who live along the route the Lakeview Locomotive takes could ride the bus because it’s more than a mile away from Lakeview Elementary School. When it’s bad weather they may have to, but during warmer months there is the option to walk.

“During the nice months of the year, it’s kind of nice to be able to walk,” mother Jen Chalmers said.

Jen likes the walking school bus for the exercise, the socializing and obviously for the kids’ enjoyment.

“I’ve met kids I probably wouldn’t have been able to meet,” Jen said. “It’s a chance to visit with them and they can talk about their day.”

The walking school buses began in 2009 as part of Albert Lea’s role in the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project. It remains an effort of the Albert Lea Vitality Center.

The kids like to be able to run around and talk with their schoolmates.

“I like that you can be with friends and talk,” 11-year-old Austin Dulitz said.

When more kids walk it inspires more kids to join the walking school bus. The Lakeview Locomotive’s route along the lake is also a perk.

“It’s such a nice route we have along the lake,” Jen said.

The group is larger in the mornings because some parents work and can’t walk home with their kids. The kids also have more activities after school. It’s usually a group of about 20 kids.

Other elementary school kids in Albert Lea are walking to school, but the only organized walking school buses are at Lakeview. It takes some organizing to make a walking school bus, and it’s mostly for the younger children who couldn’t be walking by themselves.

Kristin Heinz is one of the organizers of the Lakeview Locomotive, and she thinks the bus is an easy thing that can help a lot of people.

“It’s a nice option,” Kristin said. “For me it’s no difference walking my kids to add a few kids.”

She likes that she can walk her kids to school and also help out some parents in her neighborhood who work and aren’t able to walk with the group.

“It’s a really simple thing to do,” Kristin said. “It’s been surprising to all of us how much the kids like it.”

Kristin also likes that it reminds her kids that they can walk places instead of always driving.

“I just think it’s great for the kids,” Kristin said. “My kids are used to getting driven everywhere and this is a good reminder of one way to get around rather than just the car.”

If it’s raining she e-mails the other parents and volunteers so they know to find alternate ways to school. Kristin knows that it’s hard for some parents to want to walk with the group instead of .

“It’s harder because you have to get up a little earlier and get your kids ready a little earlier,” Kristin said. “If parents are willing to keep it going it could be permanent.”

One woman who volunteers to help walk kids to school is Mary Ellen Johnson. She is retired and likes that she can still spend time with kids by helping walk with them.

“I don’t have little kids at home so it was nice to be with these little people again,” Johnson said.

She said all the kids were enjoying themselves and talking about their Easter break when she went walking with them.

“They were having a good time chatting with each other,” Johnson said.

Johnson thinks it’s a great idea that she has shared with some of her friends who are teachers and hopes the idea will continue to grow and be an option at schools.

“Every minute of it was fun,” Johnson said. “They were just bright and happy.”