The Walk A Way Train helps ensure students safety get to and from Ridgecrest Elementary School in Largo.
Being stuck in the car lines on their way to school can wear thin with children and parents.
Many are finding a way around it in the Walking School Bus program, through which volunteers escort students to and from schools.
The federally funded program under the auspicies of the Florida Department of Transportation is run by All Children’s Hospital in Pinellas County.
Hospital community educator, Tiffany Sabiel, the coordinator of the program, helps map out the routes and find where the kids are coming to school from, “especially now that Pinellas County schools has gone back to neighborhood schools. So a lot of kids are living two miles or less of their school zone.”
“A lot of them are walking to school. If they are walking why not get the parents involved and help them get there safely,” Sabiel said.
Ridgecrest Elementary started a program, called the Walk A Way Train, after parents and staff heard a presentation from Sabiel in December 2011. Parents volunteered and received training and the program was launched in mid-January 2012.
The Walk A Way Train is the name coined by a group of school parents whose families live in the neighborhood near the elementary school, 1901 119th St. in Largo.
“They have parents who currently are walking every day to and from school to help cut back with the truancy issue, making sure the kids are getting there on time to eat their breakfast and just making sure that they are stopping at the stop signs – that they are looking right and left, they are looking for vehicles. They are crossing at the crosswalks, and crossing with the crossing guards,” Sabiel said.
At least two other schools in the county have a Walking School Bus program and two more are starting this month.
“We go into the schools in Pinellas County and we do education to try to reverse the trends of numbers of pedestrian and bicycle deaths that we have in Pinellas County, which is very high in Florida compared to all the other states,” she said.
In May volunteers and staff at Ridgecrest Elementary spoke highly of the program. Before the program was started some of the children walking to and from school caused behavior problems. That subsided, as did tardiness.
“We are trying to help kids get out of the cars – being stuck in the car lines that are 20 minutes is a long time. It’s faster, it’s fun to get on their feet and walk, and the kids really enjoy it,” Sabiel said.
The program continues to be positive in many ways, said Michael Moss, who became principal at the Ridgecrest before the start of this school year.
“It serves to unite the local community with parents coming together helping students to walk safely to and from school. Each morning and afternoon a group of committed parents spend time leading the train,” Moss said. “The parents take pride in the train and it really represents a model for other schools to follow.”