Collaborating with AAA Safety Patrol to Help Lead the Walking School Bus

December 31, 2014 at 2:50 am Leave a comment

In my capacity as consultant to the Maine Safe Routes to School Program, we had a great meeting today with AAA of Northern New England and their National Office to discuss a possible pilot collaboration between the long-standing and classic AAA School Safety Patrol and our efforts to develop a student walk leader program within our Maine Walking School Bus Program.  With upper elementary students showing and seeking leadership roles within the Walking School Bus, and with the on-going need for additional volunteer walk leader help as our daily Walking School Bus routes grow, this could feed two birds with one seed.

Dan Goodman, AAA NNE, Maddy Ray, East End Walking School Bus Coordinator, Sarah Cushman, Southern Maine Planner for the Safe Routes to School Program

L-R: Dan Goodman, AAA NNE; Maddy Ray, East End Community School Walking School Bus Coordinator;  Sarah Cushman, Southern Maine Planner (consultant) for the Safe Routes to School Program.  Maddy & Sarah pictured with AAA’s School Safety Patrol sashes and badges that are worn by student patrolers.

I and Maddy Ray, the East End Community School Walking School Bus Coordinator here in Portland, met with AAA of Northern New England’s Pat Moody, Manager of Public Affairs, and Dan Goodman, their new Traffic Safety Specialist (Note: this is the same great Dan Goodman formerly of Go Maine and the Regional Transportation Program (RTP).)  The meeting also included Jennifer Huebner Davidson, the Manager of Traffic Safety Advocacy at the AAA National Office (via phone).

We led folks through the ins and outs of our daily school-run Walking School Bus program here in Portland and also what is unfolding across the state. Then Jennifer shared her knowledge and perspective from working with the thousands of schools across the country with active AAA School Safety Patrol programs (currently there are 635,000 student Patrolers!) for how we could utilize the existing AAA program structure to implement a hybrid student walk leader program for our local students.

Within our local program we carry the desire both to do authentic youth engagement and to meet our primary goal to improve safety. So we’ve been living with the question of how to clearly define the role of our future student walk leaders.  I.e., what would student leaders be permitted to do and not permitted to do – to keep kids safe on the walk to school?  We’ve been seeking input both from the students, adult program management, and consulting with other folks involved with Safe Routes to School around the country – but it was a real boon to hear Jennifer’s broad insight and clear-cut answers.  In turn, she was excited about this potential pilot hybridization and offered ongoing guidance as we proceed to explore it.  Pat and Dan have been very supportive as well – having brought Jennifer in as a resource after we approached them and also offering local AAA technical assistance, diverse connections, and School Safety Patrol materials as we proceed.

We’ve got work to do to develop the program and implement it (we’re hoping to pilot it in Spring 2015) but we’ve found some more friends to walk with us along the way.  It’s an exciting time!

7/31/15 

Here’s an update on the Spring 2015 Maine pilot of the hybrid traditional AAA Safety Patrol and the Maine Walking School Bus Program at the East End Community School in Portland:  

Some background first:

  1. The Walking School Bus Program at East End:
    1. Volunteer Heather Curtis & EECS Route 2Started in the spring of 2013, the Walking School Bus Program at East End runs daily on two routes to the school (both are .75 miles – up to a mile is about the most realistic distance for the program.)  The program is coordinated by a stipended, school-based Walking School Bus Coordinator and registered students are led by trained and background checked volunteers.  At least two volunteers walk each route every day, with a 10:1 student to volunteer ratio as the groups grow. 
    2. About 30 students were participating between the two routes at the time of the pilot – that number fluctuates depending on the season (on one of the routes, students have a yellow school bus option) and also students moving into independent walking by themselves or with peers.
    3. 85% of students live within the traditional walk boundary (e.g. students in grades 1-5 living within a mile of school are not generally provided with yellow school busing); however, 84% of students are bused to the school due to “hazards” (2 particular street crossings) and also because of an old policy to address absenteeism in students from one part of the neighborhood.
  2. School Demographics: East End Community School is located in the more densely populated Peninsula area of Portland, on the top of Munjoy Hill.  Traditionally a working/middle class and immigrant neighborhood, 80% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and with an influx of East African asylees and refugees in the past 10-20 years, the school is a minority majority school – a rarity in Maine but more common in Portland.  The neighborhood is also fairly transient – over 25% of the 400 students at East End will move in or out of the school within any given year.
  3. Walking in the snow - vol in frontAAA Safety Patrol Adaptation for the Pilot:
    1. I think I mentioned in my post that John linked to last January that we wanted to make sure to define the WSB Safety Patroller role clearly ahead of time, so that the three parties (WSB volunteers, participating WSB students, and the new WSB Safety Patrollers) would fully understand their roles.
    2. Per AAA’s interests, we also needed to explore other possible ways to use Safety Patrollers at the school (e.g. with helping with getting students on and off the yellow school buses.)  In the end, the students that applied were all interested in the Walking School Bus duty and that best fit their own transportation needs (i.e., they couldn’t be at school ahead of time to meet the yellow bus, nor stay after to help with the yellow bus.
    3. We worked to create (or update) several WSB-related AAA Safety Patrol documents to best communicate the program to the school and with other community partners (you can see those docs here)
    4. We adapted the Safety Patrol training to include what patrol duty should be on the Walking School Bus.

The pilot experience itself (which was a success overall!):

  1. Timeframe:
    1. Because of organizing logistics with the school, the WSB/Safety Patrol hybrid pilot ran for 5 weeks at the end of the 2014-2015 school year.  Most folks felt fine about that because it meant we could reboot the program over the summer as needed. 
    2. We trained the students the week before Patrollers started walking and had community partners join us for the training: local police, the crossing guard program administrator, the assistant principal, and a WSB volunteer with Safety Patrol experience attended.
  2. Oversight:
    1. I served as the Safety Patrol adult liaison with students for the program for this round.  The Walking School Bus Coordinator and the Assistant Principal assisted with communication and outreach.
  3. Challenges:
    1. Safety Patrol - 05062015 - Sarah Cushman - 5Training: It was very difficult to set up a decent amount of training time with 4th and 5th grade students during the school day – so our time with them was short (about 45 minutes after getting everyone settled in.)  During school hours was a tough sell for competing academic work and end-of-year activities.  After school also didn’t work because most were enrolled in after-school activities like Boys & Girls Club that required leaving by yellow school bus directly after school.  We covered all the information but I think we didn’t have enough time to fully practice everything – so instead we accompanied each Safety Patroller for the first couple of mornings on their route to go over details and also talk with the adult volunteers.
    2. Melding with the existing format and logistics of the WSB Program:
      1. With the WSB program running since Spring of 2013, adult volunteers were unsure of how things would work and we communicated specifics via a targeted e-mail (which we got good feedback on) – however, there were still occasional questions that came up. 
      2. While we tried to help students understand their role and the adult volunteers role on the WSB, there was some confusion after watching At Your Post – (e.g., in our case we said the students needed to be in agreement with the adult WSB leaders before permitting students to cross)  This confusion would have to be sorted out with different students in different contexts.
      3. Because the WSB routes are all established, registered students who might be ahead of an adult volunteer are good at stopping at street corners, etc. – so it was hard for them to understand why these new Patrollers were suddenly standing at the curb holding their arms out to contain them and telling them what to do.
      4. Also because the routes are established, Patrollers would often lapse into conversation with WSB kids and drift off from being watchful and ready to intervene on unsafe behavior
    3. Adult Leadership for the Safety Patrol: The school-based WSB Coordinator was very interested in the pilot WSB Safety Patrol and assisted with recruitment, however she didn’t have availability to help with the day-to-day organizing.  With my long-term interest in youth engagement in active transportation initiatives, I was excited to help with this project to start; however I’ve asked the school to help me find a school staff person who could co-lead with me this fall.  The WSB Coordinator will be someone new this fall, too – so that shakes up continuity as well.
    4. Safety Patrol - 05062015 - Sarah Cushman - non-sentPatrollers:
      1. Grades involved: To maintain some consistency to continue into the 2015-2016 school year, we tried to recruit students from both the 4th and 5th grade (students head to middle school after 5th grade).  However we ended up with five 5th graders and only two 4th graders (one of who moved to another school in the district this summer).  We did draft a list of potential Patrollers from the rising 4th and 5th grades and vetted those with the school at the end of the year.  But we’ll need to start mostly from zero in terms of sign-up and training at the start of the year.
      2. Communication with students and families:
        1. Similar to the training, it was difficult to set a fixed weekly or biweekly time to meet with 4th and 5th grade students during the school day, and no option for after-school
        2. Difficult to communicate with multilingual families about both permission to join the Safety Patrol and also to participate in the celebratory Sea Dogs game this summer
      3. Rowan & Jolissa (2)Attendance:
        1. Some students were very prompt about arriving on time, some not – and we have similar trouble getting some students to show up for the WSB on time (but in that case the WSB just keeps moving). 
        2. One 5th grade student had a hard time remembering his duty on a regular basis.  A couple other students occasionally would not show.  We tried to communicate that attendance was a must and most students took that very seriously. 
        3. We also said they needed to let the adult volunteers know if they were sick or going to be absent on a given day (not hard to get the message when most of them lived on the WSB route or could send a message with another student); however, they didn’t do this in a few instances. 
        4. We had an attendance sheet posted on the nurse’s office door near the entry – however a number of students had a hard time remembering to self-report.
  1. Opportunities:
    1. Because only one Patroller will be returning, we have the chance to clarify the students and adult volunteer roles for the relaunch this fall.
    2. With a new WSB Coordinator, there may be more opportunity to get co-leadership help with the Safety Patrol
  2. Overall: Despite the above listed challenges, we felt the pilot WSB Safey Patrol was a success and folks seemed generally excited and pleased with the program:
    1. IMG_0533 (2)The school was supportive and encouraging and helped honor the students via an assembly at the end of the year.
    2. WSB adult volunteers (a number of whom were Safety Patrollers in their youth) liked having the Patrollers join them and helped encourage them in their duties and worked out systems for how to share the work.
    3. Students expressed pride in what they were doing and generally were present for duty and engaged.  They also helped recruit new student registrations for the WSB and helped identify prospective Patrollers for next year.  In addition, they inspired more students to want to do Safety Patrol this coming year.
    4. Parents expressed appreciation for the opportunity for their kids.  They also said they grew in awareness of the value of the Walking School Bus.

One last thing – we have an additional youth patrol version at a different Maine WSB Program site (non-AAA affiliated): The WSB launched for the first time in Ellsworth this spring and the local YMCA was inspired to utilize 4 of their staff in the afternoon to walk 45 students from school to their after-school program (.6 miles)  The WSB Coordinator in Ellsworth reported that the Y staff had 4 older students act as junior leaders, placing 2 students at the front of the route to pace kids and stop them at corners and 2 students at the back of the route to handle stragglers.  I’ll be in touch with the Y to learn more about their experience and see what we can offer to each other in terms of lessons learned.

That’s probably way, way too much info – but I hope it helps for more context for initiatives you are involved with or might be considering!

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