North Providence students join Walking School Bus movement

NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Health and the North Providence School Department have joined forces to bring a movement to students in the town — the “Walking School Bus.”

In most districts, students who live within a mile of school are not eligible to ride the bus. It leaves many kids relying on family members for rides, and some end up walking to school alone.

But the Walking School Bus movement solves those problems. Adults start walking on a route to school, picking kids up at their homes along the way until everyone is walking to school together — getting them to school on time and encouraging the kids to get up and move, said Department of Health director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott on Tuesday.

“We’ve seen that Walking School Buses do help to decrease absenteeism because students are interested — seeing their energy and excitement, seeing each other, seeing all of us — It helps bring some excitement to want to go to school,” she said.

“It’s fun to walk to school” rather than taking a bus or a car, said third-grader Alaricce Luwaga. “I think you get better exercise, and it’s more fun when you’re walking with friends.”

On the North Providence route of the Walking School Bus, about a dozen students are regulars, but it’s open to everyone.

Adults are also encouraged to volunteer as walkers. Norma-Jean Pirri applied to be a certified crossing guard earlier this year. Since she’s an avid walker herself, she was pleasantly surprised by her assignment.

“I love this, I do… I get to have interaction with the kids, we talk, we have conversations to and from school. It’s great — the best part of the job,” she said.

Marieville Elementary School principal Bruce Butler said they’re hoping to grow the program further, “to get more students on it for exercise, to get them to school on time… spend some time with their friends, in a safe, fun way to get to school.”

A Department of Health initiative, the Health Equity Zone (HEZ) program, was a catalyst to launching a Walking School Bus in the town. Ten different communities are being designated as Health Equity Zones in the state, to encourage neighborhoods to live healthier.

Providence has been running Walking School Bus programs for a few years, and Bristol also has a chapter, but the Department of Health expects more municipalities to jump on board in the near future.