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September 17, 2013

‘Walking school bus’ health and safety program could lose funding

A program aimed at getting children some exercise before taking them to and from school safely could lose its grant money without more interest from adults, according to organizers.

A program aimed at safely getting children some exercise while taking them to and from school could lose its grant money without more interest from adults, according to organizers.

The “walking school bus” is a program new to the communities of Beachwood-Franklin and Winton. The Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program secured about $50,000 from Merced County Human Services Agency to help pay for training and equipment.

Without enough volunteer adults, however, the program will have to return the money.

A walking school bus is essentially a group of children walking to school together under the supervision of a couple of adults.

“It’s like a school bus in the sense that you meet at a particular stop,” said Connie Farris, a coordinator for the program in Beachwood-Franklin.

Farris said the plan is to start slow in her area by organizing a walking school bus twice a week. Volunteers have to commit to cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other safety training, and to be involved throughout the school year.

Organizers want to have the program running by the first week of October, when schools in about 40 countries encourage children to walk or bike to school.

Winton’s coordinator Rosemary Solis said she has four or five interested adults, but she’s looking to get 15 to 20. The parents would rotate supervision of the three walking buses: before school, after school and another after a program that runs until evening.

Parents in the area often worry that their children could come into contact with gang members, Solis said.

“Some parents are scared for kids to walk by themselves,” she said.

The walking bus could give children protection from that, Solis explained.

Claudia Corchado, the program manager for the Obesity Prevention Program, said losing the money would not end the walking bus in those areas, but it would be unfortunate.

In addition to getting children to school safely, the program encourages the students to be physically active. Corchado said studies show children perform better in school if they’ve had exercise early in the day.

That can be a challenge in unincorporated areas where parents worry about letting their children trek to school, Corchado said.

“Sometimes there’s no sidewalks, there’s no crosswalks,” Corchado said. “The overall objective is to really get kids up and walking to school, or riding to school, whether it’s on a skateboard, bicycle – some form of physical activity.”

The Beachwood-Franklin group’s next meeting is Thursday from 6 to 8p.m. at Franklin Elementary, 2936 Franklin Road.

Winton’s group plans a meeting at 6p.m. tonight at Sybil N. Crookham Elementary, 7160 W. Walnut Avenue.

For more on the walking bus programs, call Corchado at (209)580-6414.

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