The roar of car engines; the beeping of horns; the grunts of frustrated drivers in traffic; and not forgetting the damage being done to the environment due to pollution. All of these are synonymous with ‘rush hour’ as parents race to get their children to school before battling their way through traffic to work. But imagine if we could take this all away?
That is the idea behind Living Streets’ Walk to School Week taking place between 21st and 25th May this year. School children across the country are being encouraged to enjoy the physical health and wellbeing benefits of walking to school, whilst doing their bit for the environment.
Yet taking those steps to the school gates are not always that easy, even for some children living in close proximity to their educational establishment. For a variety of reasons, school attendance is a major issue for some children and one that a number of schools have pinpointed as a target for their school development plans.
Many Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs) will harbour stories of picking up children from their homes to ensure they are reaping the benefits of school education. Yet four years ago, Evolve Health Mentor Rachel Barber developed an innovative way of encouraging children to walk to school on her very own ‘Walking Bus’.
With particular children at the school Rachel was deployed constantly turning up late or missing school through unauthorised absences, Miss Barber took it upon herself to ensure that those pupils made it to their destination promptly. After an initial meeting with parents and carers identified as likely people to benefit from the programme, Rachel started each morning by knocking on doors and encouraging children to join the growing Walking Bus behind her – she soon made a significant difference to attendance at the school.
The number of situations where the identified children turned up late dropped by 91%, illness calls receded by 61% and unauthorised absences were cut by 92% in a remarkable set of data.
One teacher stated, “I feel she [the child] is more settled and ready to learn. She seems happier and eager to do well. I think it has a major impact on her personal and social needs as now she feels less hassled in the morning. Overall, I feel it is great and the benefits to the children are immense.”
A colleague added, “it has been positive as she has been at school timely. This has enabled her to take part in SODA activities and other morning events. It has also boosted her confidence as she no longer feels embarrassed about being late and is motivated to come to school.”
Further discussions with class teachers continue to underpin the added benefits of the Walking Bus. 90% explained that they feel it has helped children progress academically and 82% saw social improvements.
The Walking Bus is just one strand of delivery that an Evolve Health Mentor can offer to schools as part of Project HE:RO, a programme that develops the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of young people. Please visit our website to find out more information.