City Year’s Walking Bus is Making Attendance Strides
We are over halfway through the year now and here at Bakersville we have had our fair share of ups and downs. City Year has proven to be just as challenging as we were told, but the amount of rewarding moments that we experience every single day makes it all worth it. One of our greatest challenges and best rewards come from an initiative started at Bakersville and now rippling through to other Manchester schools: walking bus.
Walking bus is a service that the City Year team at Bakersville offers to our community to help kids get to and from school safely every day. Started by AmeriCorps member Sarah Liell several years ago, the innovative program addresses a real need in our school community. Low attendance is one of the three early warning indicators that City Year addresses with our Whole School, Whole Child model; students who struggle with chronic absenteeism are much more likely to drop out of school, so we focus on creating systems and relationships that will help make the trip to school easier for our kids. For five years now Bakersville City Years have walked students to school, and this year the program expanded to Hallsville Elementary School as well.
Learn more about how City Year is addressing chronic absenteeism.
Every morning we set off on foot at 8:00am to pick up our students at their homes and get them to school by 8:30. We service a small neighborhood about a quarter of a mile south of Bakersville, and between the five of us we have three routes going into the neighborhood. My teammate Haley and I take the farthest route down to the south end of Elm Street to pick up 6 students, while my teammates Ingrid and Sabrina go on a shorter loop of the neighborhood and pick up 13 students, and our Service Leader, Andrew, takes on a short route to pick up 11 students.
Since last year, walking bus has gone from about a dozen kids to 30. It has become such a popular service that we had to start a waiting list because unfortunately there are just not enough AmeriCorps members to accommodate all the students that want to be a part of walking bus.
The increase has also come with its set of challenges. Since walking bus was originally set up with just a few kids on the list, we were initially not prepared for the volume we have now. We had to change where we met the kids, how we picked up the kids, partnering up on routes in order to accommodate large group sizes, and set up new standards for walking bus. Any time we were faced with a challenge, our team has worked together to make sure we are providing the best service we can to the students and their families.
Having a City Year literally come to your door to encourage you to come to school can make a huge difference for a student. Some of our kids have struggled with attendance and tardiness in previous years, but because of walking bus they have been able to get to school much more consistently. Our kids want to come to school now because they want to walk with their City Year and make their City Year proud.
Last year, one of my current students started off the year chronically absent. She did not like coming to school and did not have much support at home to encourage her to go, so she signed up for walking bus and spent the mornings with Andrew, who’s now our Service Leader. My student started enjoying going to school, and was even upset about a three-day weekend. When Andrew asked why she was upset, she replied, “I’m going to miss you.” Walking bus had totally changed her attitude towards school, and this year her attendance has been nearly perfect with no unexcused absences.
We show up every morning despite the rain, snow, freezing weather, or extreme heat to give students a safe way to get to school. With walking bus, we have seen students go from unwilling to go and participate in school to actually being excited to show up every day. By giving them the consistency of a red jacket at their door every morning, our students have a new excitement and determination to get to school.
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