Steve Perez of North Las Vegas watched for years as handfuls of students who attended Detwiler Elementary School ran by his house.
“They’d run by around 9 or 9:15,” Perez said, “School starts around 7 or so.”
Perez lives about a mile from the school and said that in the past few months, the number of tardy students he has seen has decreased dramatically. He thinks it’s due, in part, to Detwiler’s Walking School Bus program, part of a nationwide initiative aimed at increasing attendance. It was launched at Detwiler in January.
Detwiler Assistant Principal Derek Stevens, too, said he has seen a decrease in tardiness and absences in the past few months.
“Attendance is our biggest issue because most of our population walks,” Stevens said. “We have 30 tardies (out of about 700 students) some mornings. This has helped us target those kids and reach out to families and let them know we have this program. I also walk with them to the intersection to make sure they get home after school.”
The new offering is funded through NDOT’s Transportation Alternatives Program, according to Sheila Clark, who submitted the grant to fund Walking School Bus programs across Las Vegas. Two other schools are participating: McWilliams and Red Rock Elementary.
“Some schools just do it a few days out of the week,” said Clark, an assistant professor in residence at UNLV. “But I’m a researcher, and we know that kids who participate in walking school buses are definitely more active than their peers — more energized — (and) they’re more likely to attend school.”
The program is a partnership among UNLV, the city of Las Vegas’ Reinvent Schools program and the Clark County School District’s Safe Routes to School, according to Shellee Brassard, a program specialist for Reinvent Schools.
“Some parents aren’t super motivated to get their child to school, but they will walk them to us,” she said. “If that’s all it takes, great.”
Elease Johnson, a success mentor at the school, walks with the students each day. She meets them at an apartment complex near Simmons Street and Coran Lane.
“If we weren’t here to walk them, these kids would be walking by themselves,” Johnson said. “My goal with this program was to grow a bond with the kids so they actually want to walk and get to school. It’s dangerous in this area for kids, especially on the lot with the abandoned building.”
According to Brassard, there’s frequent traffic in and out of the abandoned building. It’s the reason the group partnered with Bread of Life Ministries, which owns the property, for a massive cleanup of the site a few months ago that resulted in three “huge” dumspters full of trash, Brassard said.
“They’ve boarded up the windows and doors, but people still come out of there with their suitcases in the morning,” Brassard said. “And stray dogs usually come out, too. The lot is a hazard for children. Before we did the cleanup, there was glass, pipes poking out the ground, a broken fence. One of our kids hurt his head pretty bad on it.”
Perez, the neighbor, said Walking School Bus helps in part because children are safer in numbers.
“Kids aren’t walking by themselves anymore. These are licensed professionals joining together to make this happen. You see kids racing to meet them — happy to go to school.”
How to help
There is a dire need for volunteers, said Shellee Brassard, a program specialist for Reinvent Schools. Parents and faculty members often help out, but there are some days when Johnson handles the bunch alone. She recalls having a group of about 60. Volunteers walk with students regardless of the weather, and “sometimes the ditches fill with water when it rains,” she said. “And there aren’t any sidewalks on this side to walk on, so we have to walk out on the street. Without us, they’d be doing that alone …”
To volunteer or for more information, call Detwiler Elementary School success mentor Elease Johnson at 702-799-1830.