Arlington School Transportation Woes: Let’s WALK!

Posted September 6th, 2012 by Elaine in News, Parenting, Uncategorized

A few weeks ago, parents of students in Arlington Public Schools (APS) received a letter designating their child as a walker or eligible for bus service. There’s been quite a brouhaha over those letters – namely by parents at Glebe Elementary (my home school – which I’ve been told lost the most bus stops of any school – 4), Taylor Elementary, and Campbell Elementary and parents at Yorktown and Wakefield High Schools.

APS policy is that children must live at least 1 mile from an elementary school and 1.5 miles from a middle or high school in order to be eligible for bus transportation. Apparently in the past, this zone hasn’t been enforced rigidly –and the system allowed people to “walk-back” to a nearby bus stop. But with growth in the school system placing additional demand on the bus system, something had to give. The choice seemingly came down to purchasing additional buses at about $200K a pop, or closing about a dozen stops. The school board chose the latter. And although it’s inspiring when Michelle Obama says “Let’s move,” when the Arlington School Board deems you a walker, it’s not the same reaction.

According to Google Maps, my home is 0.6 miles from the school. The route my second-grade son takes on his bike is actually 0.8 miles from school. He goes out of his way a bit, because my husband and I feel it’s a safer route. Which is just to say, although I don’t have skin in this game, I do have a living, breathing example of a very young student who was on-time every day last year, and walked or rode his bike – regardless of the weather. Most walks to and from that school were with my younger child in tow.

Studies suggest that exercise prior to school enhances learning. A study of young children showed that physical activity significantly improved test scores. Outside of providing a nutritious breakfast to our children, walking them to school might be the most productive thing we can do when it comes to enhancing their school performance. Am I reminding you of stories you’ve heard about Japanese group calisthenics before work? Please resist cringing.

I realize that finding out late about the changes presents a huge inconvenience. Stories from disgruntled parents abound on the Arlington Parents for Safe School Transportation Facebook page. But in my heart of hearts, I think our children should be moving by foot or un-motorized vehicles to schools, and I hope that all those angry parents can come together and figure out a way to work together to solve this problem. Here’s an idea being tried at Glebe: form a walking train. Rotate responsibility with others in your neighborhood, meet at your former bus stop and walk children to school. Form a bike train – something that my son found incredibly fun on Bike to School Day last spring – with shared responsibility by families to keep the route safe. Or, commit to walking your child to school every day, even though it’s a chunk of time that you’d prefer to spend doing other things, and benefit from the walk yourself.

The lesson here? No good deed goes unpunished. When the system had excess capacity and could bend their transportation guidelines and add people in the walk zone to the bus system, they should’ve strictly enforced the policy. Not doing so empowered a lot of parents to get angry about their buses being taken away, even though they appeared to be ineligible to use them in the first place.

Agree or disagree? Let your voice be heard at the School Board meeting on Thursday, September 6, or show up for office hours on September 10. You can also contact the school board by emailing school.board@apsva.us. More information on contacting the school board can be found here.

Elaine blogs at Connor and Helen Grow Up on less sensitive matters.

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4 Responses to “Arlington School Transportation Woes: Let’s WALK!”

  1. aimee @ smilingmama

    Excellent piece! We have a big walk and bike to school initiative at our elementary school. Last year we started with WOW — Walk on Wednesdays with folks meeting at designated spots to form a “Walking School Bus.” With the extremely limited recess time and my extremely active 6yo, I agree that walking or biking or scootering to school is a real benefit for him.

  2. Christine

    We live about half a mile from school, which is wonderful – not least because there’s no way I would have got my nervous kindergartener onto a bus full of strangers on the first days of school last year. My son walks to school with his dad every morning, and this year instead of taking the stroller, my almost-4-year-old can ride her bike while I walk to pick him up. And when the weather’s nice, there’s a playground along the way too.

  3. Jennifer

    While I wish I had the time in my day to be involved in a walking train, I don’t. Our lost bus means I am one more car on the road around Taylor every day. And that traffic now backs up a good 1/2 mile from school. And we haven’t had a rainy day yet!

    Why I won’t let my 9 and 7 year olds ride their bikes? I mean, we even have bike lanes! EVERY day I see mad commuters, some honking and others not, lose their patience and swerve into the bike lane going up the hill on Military Rd, and I hold my breath hoping that those who are biking are not going to get hit.

    I would not be nearly as mad had there been some public involvement in the decision; or consensus that our kids aren’t getting enough exercise. If that is the reason, then the buses should drop their riders a mile from school and be done with it.

    I recently blogged about this too: http://snowflakesinjanuary.com/2012/08/23/accidental-activism-fighting-the-arlington-public-school-bus-system/

    Thanks for covering this on your blog!
    Jennifer