‘Walking school buses’ come to Fairfield
A new program, walking school buses, is gearing up to add another dimension to Fairfield Community School District’s essential role in the city’s Blue Zones initiative.
One of Fairfield’s planks in the certification process is having 25 percent of its schools certify as a Blue Zones school. District administrators are working with the two elementary schools in Fairfield city limits and the middle school to implement walking school buses.
“The idea is to get students more physically active and reduce traffic congestion around the school buildings,” said Fred McElwee, auxiliary services director in the school district.
Walking school buses in Fairfield will target elementary and middle school students to walk to school rather than ride a school bus or be driven by parents.
The district needs community adults to volunteer to supervise the walking school buses.
This accomplishes a couple of Blue Zones goals, said Jenny Weber, a Wellmark employee working specifically with Iowa schools on Blue Zones projects.
“Adults volunteer to walk with students to school instead of getting a ride,” she said. “This achieves more than one goal; students move naturally, adults are volunteering and connecting, which can provide feelings of belonging.”
Residents interested in volunteering can contact McElwee at 472-5252. Volunteers will be trained and will have background checks conducted by the school district.
“We’ll start small,” said McElwee. “We are looking to start in October. We want to organize walking buses for only Wednesday late-start mornings at first, and only for going to school, not after school. Students have various after-school activities, it would be difficult to maintain a group.”
Designated routes will be published, and groups of elementary and middle school students could be as many as 20 students and a minimum of two adult supervisors.
McElwee said the planned walking school bus routes are:
• From Community Childcare Center to Pence Elementary School.
• From apartment complexes on Buchanan Avenue east of Main Street to Fairfield Middle School and Pence Elementary.
• From the high school bus line to Washington Elementary School.
Special attention will be given to safely crossing South Main Street using the Fillmore Avenue crosswalk, and East Burlington Avenue, using the D Street traffic light.
McElwee said each group would have a “bus driver” adult volunteer walking at the front of the group, and a “caboose” walking at the back of the group. Adults will be given rosters of students who will be walking.
“But this does not commit a student to always walk and never ride the bus or be driven,” said Jeff Courtright, Fairfield schools activities director and a member of the Fairfield Blue Zones committee. “If students are not at the designated walking bus stop, just as in the regular school bus stops, the group moves on.”
The program will run for about 10 weeks this fall, then resume again in the spring, so students are not walking in the winter months.
“We are at the stage of recruiting volunteers, and we’ll compile information kits and rosters,” said McElwee. “We are coordinating with Fairfield police, and adult volunteers will be given an emergency response plan.”
Walking school buses were discussed at this week’s elementary school open houses and more information will be provided to parents between now and October.
“All of our buses will continue on the same routes,” said McElwee. “This will not change how many buses we run or the routes.”
As success builds for the walking bus routes, more routes could be created, he said.
Other Iowa school district already using walking school buses include Spencer, Cedar Falls, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, said Weber.
Weber attended a Fairfield school board meeting in February, outlining Blue Zones programs and how schools could participate.
Iowa’s Blue Zones project works to transform communities by creating environments making healthy choices easier and accessible for residents.
Nine healthy lifestyle habits were identified as common denominators among the people in the five original Blue Zones around the world profiled by author Dan Buettner, in his book, “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.”
Those nine lifestyle habits are the foundation of the Power 9: move naturally, know your purpose, down shift, 80 percent rule, plant slant, wine @ five, family first, belong and right tribe.
Weber also encouraged residents to register with Blue Zones online.
“We need to re-engage,” she said. “We had 3,000 Fairfield residents sign-up last time, which is the highest per capita participation ever.
“Now that Fairfield has been chosen as a Blue Zones demonstration site and is working toward certification, everyone needs to re-register online,” said Weber. “We need at least 20 percent of the population to sign-up.”
To sign-up and pledge to make healthier lifestyle choices, go online to www.bluezonesproject.com and click on Join Today.