Trekking to school, though it may look dramatically different this year, is a time-honored ritual that helps children build relationships, confidence and connection.
There are many ways kids get to and from school. They may walk or bike; they may ride the school bus or be dropped off by parents or caregivers. Others may carpool with friends or drive themselves, and some students use a transportation service or public busing. But no matter the method, memories are made.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Parma mom Amanda Palinkas-Batzel walked her young daughter to the bus stop and home again in the afternoon. The six-minute trek was easily the best part of Palinkas-Batzel’s day.
“I love the one-on-one time of waiting with her because it’s just me and her and it gets her excited for the school day,” Palinkas-Batzel says. “As an educator myself, I know it’s important for students to be excited to learn for the day.”
The pair even started a daily habit on their walk home, discussing ways they each displayed kindness during the school day.
“We started doing the kindness thing halfway through the year and just kept it up,” she says. “I love hearing from her 6-year-old eyes all the different acts of kindness that she did at school during the day.”
Often, daily drop-off and pick-up are one of the few times a parent and child will connect without interruptions. Car rides, without the distraction of a phone or tablet, provide parents with the chance to talk more intimately with their children and have real discussions.
For Annette Shumaker, a mother of three in Olmsted Falls City School District, driving her children to school was the answer in warding off bullies. Though her daughter’s school paired her up with a “buddy” on the bus to combat the problem, bullying continued, and Shumaker finally decided to drive her children to school herself. The bullying stopped and something else took its place — quality time together. Often, the family will make stops on the ride home for ice cream or to do some walking and explore their community’s quaint downtown area.
In Rocky River, biking and walking to and from school are popular, while many students take the bus, get dropped off or drive themselves, says Greg Murphy, the district’s communication specialist. With any commute, safety is paramount. Murphy highlights safety tips applicable to families in any district.
“One of the biggest safety tips is school bus safety and when to stop for a school bus,” he says “We have a graphic on the district website with laws on when to stop on a two or three lane road and a four-lane highway,” Murphy says. “Always stop for a school bus with red flashing lights because children are getting on or off the school bus. Stay stopped until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn and the bus begins moving. Drivers should take the extra time to look for walkers and bikers, especially before turning and driving through crosswalks. Walkers and bikers should always use the sidewalk when possible and remember to use marked crosswalks and/or cross the street by the crossing guard. Bikers should always wear a helmet.”
In Strongsville, a school district with more than 5,000 students, the city employs crossing guards at the preschool, its five elementary schools and the middle school, says Dan Foust, the communications coordinator for Strongsville City Schools.
In response to a trend of drivers ignoring school buses, the city’s police department has placed police officers at random times on school buses.
“These officers are able to identify any drivers in violation of school bus safety laws and coordinate with police cruisers in the area to help catch vehicles in violation of any laws — for example, not stopping for a bus’s red lights,” Foust says. “In addition, last year our district purchased a four-camera system and GPS units for each bus in our fleet.”
Strongville’s buses transport around 3,500 students each day.
“Students and parents need to be aware that there is a ‘danger zone’ around a school bus of 10 feet,” Foust says. “No students or parents should be in this zone because drivers are unable to see anyone in that zone.”
He says bus drivers remind and reinforce bus safety rules and communicate “points of safety” to students at the beginning of each school year. The district advises students to remain at their points of safety until the rear end of the bus has passed them by to keep them safe if another vehicle disobeys traffic laws and attempts to pass a bus when the red lights are operating.
Parents weigh in on safety tips, as well.
“Always have a buddy at the bus stop, whether it’s a parent or another child,” Palinkas-Batzel says. “Practice crossing the street often even as students get older. I feel like sometimes older students are less careful because they think they know it all, whereas younger students remember to stop, look and listen more often.”
Sara Macho Hill is a freelance writer based in Northeast Ohio.