Fernridge School's Country Walking School Bus

Students meet at the start of the limestone track that paves the way to school. They chatter and jostle while waiting for more friends to arrive. Then it’s time to head off on their weekly adventure with Fernridge School’s Walking School Bus.

The school is 1.5km from the meeting point on the outskirts of Masterton. The scenic walk takes in views of the Tararua mountain range and passes paddocks of cows, sheep and horses quietly grazing. It’s a great way to start the day according to eight year old Meila Gubb.

“I like to see the paddocks and animals. Its fun and I like the calm before I get to school.”

I walked with Melia up to the school. We stopped to say hello to the cows and waved out to a milk truck passing by. Despite the traffic from the school run, she was right, it was a rather peaceful start to the day compared to my earlier drive to daycare and work.

Being stuck in a car has a way of limiting your experience of the world around you and can often be a stressful experience. The rushing, wrangling kids into the car then playing referee, negotiating school gate chaos and finding a car park is not an ideal start to the day!

Research backs up the benefits of walking to school. A 2012 Danish study found kids that walk or bike to school concentrate better in class, a fact that is often observed by our local teachers.

Walking to school has also been found to improve physical fitness and helps develop confidence, independence, decision making and risk assessment skills, improve communication with parents and build a stronger sense of community.

Walking School Bus parent volunteer, Heidi Andrewartha recognises the benefits in her own two boys who attend the school.

“It helps the boys to burn off some energy before school. It’s also good social time for the kids while they talk to each other on the way to school.”

Students on the Walking School Bus get extra benefits this month by going in the draw to win one of six brand new bikes and helmets as part of Movin’March. The Greater Wellington Regional Council event is in its seventh year and encourages families to get active on the way to school. Even those families who live too far away to walk or bike can participate by walking part of the way.

Fernridge School Principal, Janine Devonport says Movin’March has helped encourage more students to join the Walking School Bus which has in turn helped reduce congestion around the school gate.

Congestion and safety is a big issue with the school situated in an 80km zone. The school has been working with Wairarapa Road Safety Council’s Road Safety Coordinator, Holly Hullena to help improve safety around the schools gate.

“Masterton District Council has installed flashing school signs to encourage vehicles to slow down past the school. We worked with the council’s roading engineers to install two pou (poles decorated by students) outside the school and one at the walking school bus meeting point. These help increase awareness of students walking and biking to school and provide crossing points outside the school gate. Total Span came on board to supply a shelter at the meeting point to keep kids dry while waiting for their parents after school”

On the day I walked, the students lined up diligently by the pou waiting to cross the road. They looked left and right and waited for cars to pass before crossing safely.

It’s an important opportunity for learning and part of their journey to independence. It’s not easy letting kids out into the big world but the benefits are worth it – so is the adventure.