Knapp Elementary aims to launch walking school bus program

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2019, AT 12:01 A.M. CST. AND THEREAFTER In this Feb. 4, 2019 photo, Regina Stieber, community school coordinator at Milwaukee Public Schools' Lincoln Avenue Elementary School, walks kindergarten student Edgar Freda-Reyes down his front steps in one of the first stops on the school's walking bus route on Milwaukee's south side. (Caitlin Sievers/The Journal Times via AP)

By CAITLIN SIEVERS

The Journal Times AP Member Exchange

MILWAUKEE — On an unseasonably warm February morning, 11 children — some quiet and sleepy-eyed, some chipper and chatty — followed Regina Stieber along Milwaukee sidewalks wet with melting snow.

Two days per week, Lincoln Avenue Elementary School’s “walking bus” picks up students on a set route and makes sure they get to school safely.

Stieber, Lincoln’s community school coordinator, along with special education teacher Sue Sauerberg and her 18-year-son, make the mile walk each Monday while two other Lincoln teachers lead the “bus,” which is actually an supervised procession of walkers, on Fridays.

Lincoln is a Milwaukee Public Schools bilingual community school located on the city’s south side, The Journal Times reported.

Stieber said the Lincoln bus has been successful in increasing school attendance for its 14 participants in kindergarten through fifth grade. Officials at Knapp Elementary School, the Racine Unified School District’s first community school, are looking to increase student attendance by start a walking bus of their own but have struggled to find volunteers.

Community schools work to serve the wider neighborhood, not just students, which includes increased after-school programming and more parent involvement.

Dani Dekker, assistant principal at Knapp, told the RUSD School Board during a December meeting that Knapp had already identified students who would benefit from a walking school bus and worked with Carthage College students to map out routes. The school attempted to start a walking bus last year, but could not find enough volunteers to lead it. Knapp is continuing to work on a solution.

“It’s been a challenge to find people to escort the kids,” said Unified spokeswoman Stacy Tapp.

Tapp believes that one of the challenges in getting volunteers is Knapp’s early start time, with classes beginning at 7:20 a.m. Lincoln’s start time is similarly early, at 7:30 a.m. The school’s volunteers generally start the walking route at about 6:40 a.m.

The students on the Lincoln route are those who live relatively close to the school but have poor attendance, or who do not have a family member who can walk with them to school.

“We have really good attendance for the walking school bus for those kids on Mondays and Fridays, so we are getting those kids to school those days,” Stieber said. “And the kids love it.”

The school bus leaders carry a cutout of a school bus, and chat with the students or play games along the way. When it’s cold outside, sometimes Stieber asks the kids to do jumping jacks or wiggle their feet while they wait for others to come out of their houses.

“They’re usually pretty chatty in the morning because they are excited to see us and to see each other,” Stieber said.

Lincoln started its Friday morning walking bus in fall 2017 and added Mondays this school year.

The school community had previously identified safety as a No. 1 priority at Lincoln, especially when it comes to kids walking to school. The district learned about walking school buses at a conference through Safe Routes to School, an organization that provides districts with information and resources about walking school buses. Parents loved the idea, Stieber said.

“That’s how we got volunteers,” Stieber said. “Because it came from them knowing that we wanted our kids to get to school safe, and there was already concern about safety in the neighborhood and our little elementary kids were walking to school by themselves.”