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Your Life daily: Walking bus is a step to a healthy life; in association with Coventry Fostering Service.

Byline: KAREN HAMBRIDGE

OCTOBER has been Walk to School month with pupils across Coventry and Warwickshire encouraged to get to class by "greener" means than the family car. Dozens of schools have taken part in fun initiatives to get their youngsters walking, cycling and scooting to school and the campaign has been a great success. In fact, it has been such a success that schools everywhere are now organising their own walk-to-school sessions on a daily basis. Feature writer KAREN HAMBRIDGE reports.

COME rain, shine, sleet or snow there's no stopping the walking bus heading for Coventry's Potters Green Primary School.

In bright bibs with bags in hand the perky pupils join the bus at their nearest stop, then troop cheerfully into school, chatting and giggling with their pals.

"They love it," said Fiona Smith, a learning mentor in charge of the walking bus. "It helps with their road safety knowledge and their communication and social skills and of course helps keep them active.

"When they get to school they're wide awake and alert, ready for the school day."

The bus, which uses three bus stops as joining points for parents and children, started off at the end of the last summer term, during Coventry's own Walk to School Week initiative.

It became such a hit that parents asked for it to continue and now it's a daily occurrence with up to 25 children regularly using it.

Some parents walk with their kids and the bus, some simply drop them off knowing with eight supervisors their little ones are in good hands.

Pupils and supervisors - and even a little girl's teddy bear on occasion - wear a fluorescent bib to ensure they can be seen in all weathers and lights and safety is paramount, particularly when crossing the road.

Fiona acts as a walking bus traffic stopper, arms outstretched to halt vehicles, as everyone, hand-in-hand with their walking 'partner' snake across the street.

Denise Arnold, mum to six-year-old Callum, one of the winners in our Coolest Kids competition, can't praise the bus highly enough.

She now drops Callum off at their nearest 'bus stop' and off he trots with his pals.

"I used to walk Callum to school anyway so when the bus started I thought it would be a great idea to join in. I think it's brilliant, there's the discipline of walking together, it gives the children a bit more responsibility because they are not with their parents and they feel a bit more independent. And even though Callum was good with road safety before, it has improved no end since he joined the bus."

Callum too is happy with the bus.

"It's good because I enjoy meeting all my friends," he said. A view echoed by his chum, Latisha Frost, six. "I like meeting my friends," she said, "but it's nicer walking in the summer."

Of course sunshine always makes for a more inviting morning stroll but as Fiona explains the bus stops for nothing, inclement weather included.

"The children wrap up and are prepared for all weathers," she said. "And actually some of the children are already saying they are looking forward to the snow."

In fact Kyle Barratt, eight, reckons it's much more fun walking to school in the rain. "We don't mind when the weather's bad. You can jump in the puddles," he said.

Kyle and his sister, Lauren, five, are dropped off at the walking bus stop by mum, Annette. She says they love it.

"They have a lot of fun because they walk to school in a big group now and it's safe because there are a lot of supervisors. And I enjoy bringing them to the bus stop because I can have a chat to the other mums."

One of the aims of the walking bus, and any walk-to-school initiative, is to cut congestion and traffic around the school and promote active lifestyles.

For Katie Cox, 10, and Charlie Maunders, seven, this has certainly been the case. The two children are looked after before school and after school by local childminder, Dawn Smith.

She explained: "I would have liked to walk to school with Katie and Charlie but it's a bit too far for me to manage because I've got arthritis, but the walking bus stop is just down the road from my house so it's easy to come along with the children and drop them off.

"It's good because it means less traffic at the school and it's enjoyable for the children. Katie has Aspergers Syndrome and she has made more friends and grown in confidence by joining the walking bus than before.

"From her point of view it has been brilliant."

Potters Green headteacher, Sue Poultney, said she was proud of the success of the walking bus and all the hard work put in by Fiona.

She added: "The children get to school on time, it helps encourage regular attendance and it gives the children a really good start to the day.

"The children are able to talk to one another and build friendships which is good perhaps for those pupils who might not interact so much when they are on the playground.

"So the stronger relationships are an added bonus. And of course there are the health benefits, if they can walk to school and enjoy it, that is fantastic."

Walk to School initiative is a big success

TRAVEL officers for Warwickshire County Council have been delighted with this year's response to the national Walk to School month initiative.

Last year 74 primary schools took part but that figure has been eclipsed this year with a total of 120 schools signing up. Schools are using resources such as wallcharts where children can record how they've travelled to school, diaries of things to spot on the journey and stickers to reward children who have walked in.

And the message is sticking too with more schools highlighting the benefits of walking to school right through the year, giving prizes for the class with most walkers and offering other motivational awards.

Laura Vesty, sustainable travel officer, said: "We have a Walk to School week in May and it used to be only a week in October too but I think the idea now is to try to sustain the enthusiasm.

"We hope if parents and children make an effort for a week they might be encouraged to continue with the walking so it becomes a daily habit.

"There are lots of reasons why walking to school is a good idea, it cuts congestion and pollution around schools, is good for health and fitness and can be a great way for parents and children to get together and have a chat and meet friends."

She said obviously not all children lived within reasonable walking distance of their schools but it was hoped parents would still take the message on board and park say 10 minutes away from the gates, giving them a chance to walk the final bit.

Laura added: "Our feedback is that the kids really enjoy walking in and, with obesity levels a growing concern, if we can get young children accustomed to be fit and active, hopefully it will create habits which will stay with them for the rest of their lives."

Pupils give up their car journeys

PUPILS all over the area have been looking to get to school in a host of different ways.

At Milverton Primary in Rugby Road, Leamington, children arrived on bikes and scooters as well as on foot during their special Walk to School day.

Organised as part of the activities for the campaigning month the day also involved other activities including pedestrian kerb-safe training, puncture repair workshops and themed assemblies.

The school was one of a number in Warwickshire to have a school travel plan approved earlier this year. It incorporates a number of measures to reduce the number of cars being used on the school run.

And all these measures are being highlighted during the Walk to School month.

Headteacher Ben Wilde, said: "This is a special Walk to School day where we encourage children to get to school in a variety of different ways other than coming by car.

"We want to reduce the number of cars and pollution around our school and increase safety in our local environment.

By walking or cycling to school we are promoting fit, healthy children with active, observant minds - all ready for the day's lessons."

The infant class with the least car travellers was presented with a soft toy and the junior class got a trophy.

Cartoon gets the message across

TO SUPPORT Walk to School month, Environmental Protection UK launched a new interactive online Travel Buster - a colourful cartoon calculator aimed at encouraging seven to 11-year-olds that walking or cycling to school is healthier for them and their local environment.

Travel Buster, www.travelbuster.org.uk takes pupils through simple steps to assess the impact of their school journey on their health, local air pollution and noise pollution.

Pupils can then make a pledge to improve their rating by changing how they travel - for example walking or cycling more, instead of travelling by car.

Philip Mulligan, chief executive of Environmental Protection UK, said: "The Travel Buster really engages kids and gets them thinking about the environmental impact of their journey to school and healthier ways to travel.

"Everyone needs to do their bit to help protect our planet and using this website shows kids an easy way to do this.

"We are working for a cleaner, quieter, healthier world for all our children.

Transport is the main cause of air and noise pollution, both of which can have serious impacts on our health.

"It's really important to teach kids about environmental issues at an early age and to show them their individual actions can have a big i mpact."

CAPTION(S):

STEP IN LINE... Childminder Dawn Smith with pupils Katie Cox and Charlie Maunders (right) wait to join the walking bus (above). Pictures by Richard Nelmes RN231008WALK-05; RN231008WALK-03; BEST FEET FORWARD... Denise Hayward with six-year-old son Callum Arnold (above) and Annette Barratt with her children Kyle, eight, and Lauren, five, look forward to the walking bus. RN231008WALK-02; RN231008WALK-01; PEDAL POWER... Hannah Carr (front) and fellow Milverton Primary School pupils walked, cycled and scooted to school in their efforts to help save the environment. MR211008WALK-1
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Oct 28, 2008
Words:1730
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