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 Walk the Walk: Help Wanted Getting Students to School

8/26/2019 12:00 AM

​Many students don't give much thought about how they get to school. Arriving on time, or being able to show up at all is a daily struggle for many Rockford families who live too close to school to receive transportation. Luckily, five years ago local organizations including the YMCA of Rock River Valley, United Way, and the Winnebago County Health Department came together to launch the Walking School Bus to ensure that all the kids had their own “school buses.”

The Walking School Bus is a program dedicated to getting local elementary students to class safely and on time. It is simply explained by Rebecca Nunes, the Chair of the Youth Development Branch Advisory Board at the YMCA, “These little kids live too close to the school to be included on the bus route, but many of them live in dangerous neighborhoods or don't always have guardians available to walk them safely to school. The Walking School Bus and its volunteers created a route to stop and pick up kids on the way into school.” While the concept seems like a small thing, the impact Walking School Bus has had on the collective community is profound.

“You think it's just walking kids to school, but it’s so much more than that,” said Tonya Lewers, the 21st Century Coordinator and Walking School Bus director at the YMCA. The Walking School Bus not only ensures that kids arrive to school safely, it gives the kids something to look forward to and allows for positive mentorship relationships to be built with the staff. “Just being there for the kids to help them start the day off, they come to depend on us. They want us to be there, they're looking for us,” Lewers said. The Walking School Bus has catered to Lewis Lemon and Ellis elementary schools for the past five years, and this year the program will extend its reach to Constance Lane Elementary School when it opens this fall. 

The Walking School Bus has not only allowed for students to be positively affected, it has created an avenue for the schools to develop further ties with the community and its students. The schools’ collaboration with the Walking School Bus has decreased truancy and tardiness rates among students in Walking School Bus neighborhoods. 

As we head into the 2019-2020 school year, the Walking School Bus organizers want to increase engagement and add more people to their team. “I have team members who are so passionate about this and so passionate about kids, that they just jump right in,” Lewers said. A truly amazing aspect of the Walking School Bus is that just one person's time can create a lasting impact on the youth of our community. If you are interested please contact Tonya Lewers at tlewers@rockriverymca.org

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