'Walking school bus' is on a roll
This well-oiled machine of chattering kids and banging backpacks has been running since 2005.
Seattle Times staff columnist
A moment, please, to acknowledge the patience of Mr. Glen Bradburn.
He's the poor guy charged with coordinating the 18 families and 22 kids who make up the "walking school bus" that travels to West Woodland Elementary School on Seattle's Phinney Ridge every morning.
"You can see the complexity," he told me. No kidding. It's a two-page spreadsheet.
This well-oiled machine of chattering kids and banging backpacks has been running since 2005. So when West Woodland decided to take part in National Walk to School Day last week, and expand it into "Walk and Wheel Month," well, this was the group to emulate.
Nationwide, 3,384 schools have groups like this one; in the Seattle area, 18 schools are walking and wheeling this month — and there's no reason not to do it all year. The kids are exercising, their families are bonding, and in the process, our somewhat disparate neighborhoods are being threaded together into a quilt of trust and familiarity.
My morning on the bus started at 7-year-old Oliver Bacon's house. We hung with his dog, Gus, until Oliver's friend, Nolan Pittman, 8, was dropped off by his mother, who was off to work at Microsoft.
"It's nice to be with your friends and talk to them," Oliver told me. "I went on a real bus in kindergarten."
Said Nolan: "We're walking to school, so this is a school bus."
All the while, Oliver's mother, Sheila Cain, 40, kept her eye on the kitchen clock.
"I can get kind of mean sometimes," quipped Cain, a freelance writer who works from home.
Indeed, at 8:25, it was all business: Out the door, up the street, up some stairs, across the parking lot of the Phinney Neighborhood Center, up more stairs and then onto Phinney Avenue North.
"So many people drive two or three blocks," Cain said as we walked. "It's inexcusable not to walk anywhere, if you can."
Cain has friends who work out of the house, so she understands the need to drive and drop off.
"But I am able to do this, I want to do this and it's what you do," she said. "A mile is really not that far — even though it's up Phinney Ridge, both ways."
On Phinney, we stopped for 5-year-old kindergartner Clair Dickerson. Her father, Tom, hurt his neck and her mother works early; they worried that they weren't doing their share by "driving" the bus, like other parents. But the group insisted that Clair stay.
We made our way to the intersection of 60th and Sycamore, where about 20 kids were waiting. There were Max and Jane McKelvey, Harper and Willa Kuhn and a new boy named Tate Schurman. There were Lucas Sussman and Joe Berry in his Red Sox cap.
Noah Gorstein, 10, who Cain called "the patriarch," has been with this walking school bus since it started.
"That's almost half my life," he said.
The chatter continued as the bus snaked down the steep incline that runs through the P-Patch, and onto Fourth Avenue Northwest, where it took almost a minute to get everyone through the crosswalk to the school.
Every afternoon, the group gathers at the fish tank at the front of the school and doesn't leave until all the kids without an after-school plan are there.
"No child left behind," Bradburn said.
The walk home, he said, is a great release for the kids, who aren't "bouncing off the walls" when they get home. And Bradburn has noticed that his kids don't mind walking other places.
"Before, if they had to walk anywhere, it was 'Oh, man!' " he said. "But now they are happier to go hiking and running around than they used to be."
As long as someone can handle the spreadsheet, this walking school bus will continue threading its way through Phinney Ridge.
"Rain or shine," Bradburn said. "There's no stopping us."
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her bicycle changed her life.
About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
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