During the month of November, students catching a ride on the Bester Elementary Walking School Bus celebrated the contributions of the local military with members of the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Hagerstown. They were able to not only build relationships with local service members but in the weeks that followed there were a variety of themed activities such as decorating American flags and signing special gifts for the service members who had come to the monthly special event. They also decorated stars for a flag, one to give to the military, and another for them to give to a local hero in their school, family or community.
On the first Wednesday in November, the effort began with four members of the military: SSG Osbourne, SSG Bottum and SFC Fedorko from the Army, as well as A02 Jordan from the Navy. They each partnered with Neighborhood Ambassadors and BCOH staff at four bus stops throughout the community where children begin their walk. At each site kids and parents engaged with service members who provided a variety of popular items including Navy pencils and Army lanyards and formed lines to march to school. “We love working with the community and we want to get out there and talk with folks. We wear a uniform but we’re normal people,” said SSG Bottum. “I had one young man who kept talking about his desire to join the Army. I told him to stay in school, be focused, listen to his parents and be on time and one day maybe I’ll see him.”
We also were able to infuse ideas around discipline and health, as kids began competing in the morning for Army shirts for best marcher to school, most jumping jacks and most push-ups. At the Mulberry Street hub AmeriCorps VISTA Christine Gou is a bundle of energy motivating children to get moving in the morning: see them in action! . This practice of adding some opportunities to get moving keeps kids warm and gets them ready for a great day at school. A parent commented, “I wish they could have the military every day, that’s the straightest line I’ve ever seen.” The morning check-in’s become a time to do a variety of tasks from having snacks, doing activities, relationship building, to celebrating simple milestones like birthdays with a song from peers. Edna, a local grandparent, faithfully brings her two Bester students to the Walking School Bus each week. As we discussed the colder temperatures and keeping kids motivated, she explained, “We’ll be alright, we’ll think right through that cold!”
The more you walk the more you can win on the Walking School bus, with signature prizes announced each month through a raffle. On average we have between 60-80 participants joining us on the journey each week, compared to about 45-50 only once a month last year. In October, we gave away two brand new pairs of shoes, one to Kamden Falls and the other to Gracie Minnick. Next month will be themed around the holiday season and we will announce four prizes of select sporting goods items to encourage healthy play to raffle winners.
The Walking School Bus is a monthly parent-led effort managed by Bester Community of Hope (BCOH) and sponsored by a generous grant funded by the Washington County Health Department. BCOH is an initiative of San Mar Family & Community Services and is possible due to the generosity of many partners, including the Fletcher Foundation, the Washington County Department of Social Services and Casey Family Programs. If you have interest in helping, we’d still like to hear from you and find ways we can partner to help kids and families get connected! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 240-513-6370!