Parents, nurse team up to replace D220 crossing guards

After cash-strapped Carpentersville cut funding for crossing guards at five local schools, parents of students at Sunny Hill Elementary School teamed up with a nurse from Barrington School District 220 to create a program that will not only keep kids safe, but active as well.

The program, called “Walking School Bus,” is set to launch at the start of school year, with help from a $700 grant awarded this month by the District 220 Educational Foundation.

“This program is fulfilling several needs within the school,” said Margarita Geleske, a foundation trustee. “It is encouraging health and fitness, safety and community.”

Mary Anne Wesoloski, a school nurse at Countryside Elementary in Barrington, is among the driving forces behind the program. She will recruit about a dozen parent volunteers who will walk through the neighborhood surrounding Sunny Hill, meet with students and escort them all the way to school.

Serving as “bus drivers,” the volunteers will have predetermined “bus stops” where children will wait to join the “school bus” of classmates headed to Sunny Hill.

Since Sunny Hill is a neighborhood school, most of its 450 students are within walking distance and not bused to the campus. Only the school's dual-language program students who live outside the school's boundaries are given school bus transportation.

“Part of what I do is travel to Sunny Hill and on one of those times, I noticed that a lot of kids were dropped off,” Wesoloski said. “I decided to implement an incentive for walking.”

The program's need became more urgent and obvious this year when Carpentersville officials decided they could no longer pay for crossing guards at District 220's Sunny Hill and four schools in Community Unit District 300.

The grant money Wesoloski received will be used to purchase yellow safety vests and durable rain ponchos for the parents, as well as incentive awards for children who frequently participate.

“We encourage teachers and staff to create programs and lessons that are innovative and enhance the curriculum while having a creativity angle,” Geleske said.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages children to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. With a 25-minute physical education class every day in Sunny Hill, that leaves students short of the recommended amount of activity.

“This program is a way to fill that gap from the recommended allowance of exercise,” Wesoloski said. “It's a convenient, free physical activity.”

“If they walk to school, hopefully they will arrive alert and awake and be healthier overall,” she added.

Besides improving the health and wellness of students, organizers say the program will address some of the safety concerns raised when Carpentersville eliminated crossing guard funding.

Sunny Hill Principal Irma Bates hopes community members embrace the walking initiative by driving carefully near the school and even shoveling walkways for the commuting students during winter.

“There is no cellphone usage in the school area,” she added. “We are counting on parents to consider the safety of not only their child, but also other children and parents.”

With the inaugural walking day set for August 23, the first day of the school year, Wesoloski is looking forward to encouraging students to participate.

“Walking is a lifelong activity,” she said. “And all they need is a pair of shoes.”

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