An ongoing collaboration between WTI, the City of Bozeman, and three Bozeman elementary schools is ensuring children develop valuable bike and walking skillsets, while also enjoying the outdoors with friends. As of last April, students from Hyalite and Meadowlark Elementary Schools have been meeting their classmates at a local park to collectively walk or bike the rest of the way to school while accompanied by an adult. They then repeat the process, in reverse, at the end of the school day. These “walking school buses” and “bike trains” are popping up all over the Gallatin Valley and are designed to not only decrease school-related traffic but to prepare students for the school day through physical activity, which improves concentration and focus.
Walking school buses and bike trains are part of the City of Bozeman’s reinvestment in the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) methodology, which was originally developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and encourages bicycling and walking to school through education, infrastructure improvements, and incentives. As part of their support, the City of Bozeman supplies two Parks and Recreation staff members to accompany students to and from school. In the afternoons, the Walking School Bus is combined with the Bozeman Rec Mobile, giving Hyalite and Meadowlark students an opportunity to enjoy extended, supervised outdoor recreation time after school. This service is helpful to working parents because pick-up time can be as late as 5 pm.
The popularity of the walking school buses has led to the foundation of a similar bike train program at Morning Star Elementary. Students meet at Tuckerman Park in the morning and ride the two-mile route to school. “When the weather is nice, around 30 people participate,” explains Jen MacFarlane, the WTI Safe Routes to School Coordinator. “It’s a huge success. But like any community programming, there are sustainability challenges.”
Unlike the walking school buses at Hyalite and Meadowlark, the Morning Star bike train relies entirely on parent and teacher volunteers and requires effort to maintain as work and school schedules fill up. “These programs are far more likely to succeed if they have leadership support. Morning Star’s Principal, Will Dickerson, along with the Health Enhancement teacher, Susan Atkinson, champion the Morning Star bike train – actively encouraging participation in school announcements, the parent newsletter, anywhere they talk with students and potential volunteers,” notes Jen. “That’s one of the reasons it’s so successful.”
Jen encourages those looking to start their own bike train, walking school bus, or other Safe Routes to School program to foster support from their school leadership. “Not all programming feels right to all principals and superintendents; Gallatin High School has decided to try School Pool, a new carpool platform to decrease the number of cars driven to school. Whereas, Monforton School in Four Corners has been supporting safe infrastructure and walk/bike to school events for the last five years.” Jen adds, “Many options exist – there’s a Safe Routes to School program to appeal to everyone.”
In the meantime, the Hyalite and Meadowlark walking school buses will be available year-round. If you are interested in coordinating a walking school bus or bike train at your child’s school, please contact Jen MacFarlane at email@example.com.