Bicycle Colorado

Walking School Bus Success at Red Rocks Elementary

RR kids walking up hillA few weeks ago, another one of our year-long Safe Routes to School programs finished up. It wasn’t a typical finish, though. It was one that required some customization … and one that ended with a huge (and unusual) success.

The majority of our Safe Routes to School programs typically follow a formula.

  • We visit schools, teach kids about the benefits of biking and walking more (mostly to and from school), give them an opportunity to practice their on-bike skills.
  • Then celebrate what they’ve learned during “Walkin’ & Wheelin’ Week.”

During these encouragement weeks, we try to get as many students, families and staff biking and walking to school. Kids can win fun prizes, and families get more outside time (while getting healthier on the way).

And then we went to Red Rocks Elementary in Jeffco. When I met Laurie Allin, our local parent champion at Red Rocks, she told me that Red Rocks wanted the Safe Routes program but that the school didn’t want us to encourage kids to bike or walk to school. I didn’t understand this request until I looked at a map.

You want me to bike where?

walking school bus bridge crossingRed Rocks Elementary is at the top of a steep hill in Morrison. It is a hill that most adults couldn’t summit on a bike. At the base of that hill, two busy highways intersect. Only 12 percent of Red Rocks students live within two miles of the school (the general walk boundary in the Safe Routes to School world). Most families “choice” into this school, so they drive. As a parent, I’d be hesitant to let my elementary student brave these hazards to get to school on foot or bike, too.

Thinking outside the box

RR Kids PushupsSo, we had to get creative. During the school’s bicycle and pedestrian safety education program, we talked more about doing it on the weekends rather than to school, or riding/walking around their neighborhoods,or  to a friend’s house or to get ice cream as a family.

We then had to address Walkin’ & Wheelin’ Week. Red Rocks is an amazing community full of dedicated parents and teachers. They also have a wellness committee. (Laurie, my new hero, is of course involved on every level here). We decided our event would be best coupled with the school “Healthy Schools Week” at the end of April.

At schools with a high number of students who can’t bike or walk to school, we often offer a Fitness Challenge option. This makes the event more inclusive. Kids can earn a raffle ticket by completing fitness tasks before school or at recess.

The folks at Red Rocks took the fitness challenge to the next level.  They had big signs made and placed them around the playground at the school. They then scheduled a block of time for each class to come out and learn each exercise so they could repeat it at recess (and earn raffle tickets, of course). Kids were spending their lunch recess doing push ups, planks, crab walks and pretending to hula-hoop.

Organizing a giant walking school bus

Group walking school busOn the second day of Walkin’ & Wheelin’ Week, Laurie and the Wellness Committee organized a giant walking school bus—a group of kids walking together, usually supervised by at least one adult. We wanted these kids to know what it felt like to walk to school (shouldn’t every kid have this opportunity?), so we decided that safety in numbers was the way to go. This was the perfect chance for the kids to practice what they had learned about being safe pedestrians during our program in PE.

Drumroll, please…

On a chilly Tuesday morning, stickers in hand, I arrived at our designated parking lot in downtown Morrison.  We had advertised the walking school bus extensively, but didn’t know how many people to expect. I thought maybe 10, maybe 20. Even a small group of kids walking would be a big change at this school.

But 92 showed up! We had students of all ages, parents, teachers and even a couple of dogs. That is almost a third of the Red Rocks student population. It was amazing to enjoy the gorgeous, crisp Colorado spring morning while listening to the chatter and giggles of little kids. (And, secretly, I kept thinking about how many fewer cars were chugging up that steep hill and crowding the small parking lot that morning). It was awesome.

Walking School Bus Highway CrossingThe kids had a blast. Many parents stayed and walked with us, too. It was about a half-mile walk, which only took 15 minutes or so. We walked on the bike path along the creek. A Morrison police officer helped direct traffic at the intersection of the two highways, so everyone was able to cross safely.

I kept overhearing comments on how fun this was, how we needed to do this more often. I even heard a couple of moms say that they might meet in the parking lot every Wednesday to keep the momentum going. It was a great way for us all to start our day. And I sincerely hope they keep it up. All it takes is a little bit of planning and a couple great champions.

(For more information on walking school buses and how to get one started in your community, visit walkingschoolbus.org)

Bicycle Colorado

About the Author: Bicycle Colorado

Bicycle Colorado is a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Denver. We use advocacy, education and passion to make Colorado one of the most bicycle-friendly states in the nation. We encourage and promote bicycling, increase safety, improve conditions and provide a voice for people who ride bicycles in Colorado. With the support of our members and numerous partnerships across the public and private sector, we’ve made significant strides in improving bicycling since 1992.


Lynette Vann - Reply

Jenna – I love this idea! As much as we love biking, our routes to school here in Kazakhstan this year are too high risk for riding regularly (tears and wringing of hands) but…a walking school bus! That we can do. Our family has been walking the route regularly so now we just need a few more families to join us for a special bus day. Thanks for the inspiration! Love to follow the work you all are doing.
Lynette (Katie Mac’s sister)


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