Colorado Fall 2016 School Champion Award Winner
Colorado: Schmitt Elementary School, Denver
Schmitt Elementary in southwest Denver is a school in transition. The school serves the families of the Ruby Hill neighborhood, which is a community that is heavily impacted by poverty. Virtually 100% of the students receive free or reduced price lunch, and the student body is predominantly made up of English language learners and ethnic minorities. The neighborhood is also among the least walkable neighborhoods in Denver. Sidewalks range from woefully inadequate to nonexistent, and conditions for pedestrians, especially children, are so dangerous that a student was actually struck by a vehicle last year while walking home from school.
This year, English Language Development teacher, Drew Weisel, has decided to take a giant step towards ensuring all of the school’s children get to school safe, healthy, and on time. He has started a walking school bus.
“Initially, I had to explain to a lot of people that there isn’t actually a bus,” said Weisel. Schmitt Elementary does not have busses because virtually all of the students live within a mile of the school. So instead of a traditional school bus, Weisel, who also lives in the neighborhood, along with other dedicated volunteers, can be found pounding the pavement in the early morning hours before school starts walking with the children to school. “It really is as simple as walking with the children and their families to school,” says Weisel. When a local non-profit called WalkDenver asked Weisel why he chose to start a walking school bus he said, “I know the tremendous benefits it can have on our students and our community. There are attendance benefits, environmental benefits, financial benefits, health benefits, and so much more.”
Weisel tracks the number of students who participate in the walking school bus each week and the numbers have been steadily growing. The program has built upon already established events like International Walk to School Day on October 5th, and October’s designation as International Walk to School Month. In fact, the program at Schmitt has been so successful that the school is considering adding a second walking school bus along another route.
As for Schmitt Elementary, last week Denver Public Schools released the results of its latest School Performance Framework, a color-coded system for rating the district’s schools. According to the newly-released data, Schmitt Elementary has gone from red to orange, which just like the walking school bus, is a step in the right direction."