SALINAS VALLEY — Walking school buses have arrived in the Salinas Valley, kicking off a new way for local elementary students to safely get to school.
Transportation Agency for Monterey County, in partnership with the Monterey County Health Department, Ecology Action and Blue Zones, launched the project on Oct. 5, 6 and 7 in the cities of Gonzales, Soledad and Greenfield, respectively.
The walking school buses — an adult-supervised walking group to and from school — were led by Health Department employees as well as Skye and Chase mascots from “Paw Patrol.” The groups traveled along the colorful sidewalks that were painted by volunteers this summer for students to use for their safe walking routes to school.
“We are conducting the walking school buses to encourage and promote more walking and biking to school to help reduce traffic at schools during drop-off and pick-up times,” said Jessica Perez, chronic disease prevention coordinator for the Monterey County Health Department. “There are numerous health benefits in addition to getting exercise, students who are active learn better.”
The project, funded by the “Every Child” Active Transportation Program grant from SB-1 funds, is designed to create a safe, healthy and fun experience for young children and reduce traffic near schools. It is part of the Transportation Agency’s “Safe Routes to School” program, which offers resources to schools, guardians and communities that want to improve safety and traffic around schools across Monterey County.
There are also plans to expand the project beyond the three South Monterey County cities.
“We are starting the walking school buses in South County (Gonzales, Soledad and Greenfield) this month of October, but will be working with schools in the Peninsula in the spring, followed by North County and Salinas,” Perez said.
Last week, local participants met at 7:30 a.m. at their designated starting points before walking to their respective schools.
Central Park was the starting point for Gonzales students, who then walked to La Gloria Elementary School. Soledad students met at Liberty Chapel Church on Kidder Street to walk to Gabilan Elementary School, and Greenfield students gathered at Tyler Park Townhouse on Heidi Drive to walk to Oak Avenue Elementary School.
After arriving at school with their escorts, students received a healthy snack and had a chance to get safety-themed prizes.
“What a great start of the day this morning,” said the Gonzales Police Department via social media on Oct. 5. “We were able to walk to school with our La Gloria School friends and special Paw Patrol guests Skye and Chase. It was good seeing everyone and great job walking safely to school.”
The Health Department will be leading the walking school buses in the South Monterey County communities every week in October.
In early November, county staff will host a volunteer training for community members to learn to lead these groups for the remainder of the school year. To sign up for the volunteer training, contact Jessica Perez at [email protected] or 831-755-8975.
Maps of the walking routes are available in English and Spanish on the Safe Routes to School website saferoutesmonterey.org.