New Stanley Elementary in Kansas City, Kansas is special. In an era of school budget cuts and hour-long school bus commutes, New Stanley is a true neighborhood school. About half of the students already walk to school, and P.E. teacher Jennifer Spears says that it wouldn’t take much for nearly all of the students to walk or bike to school. “In most weather, nearly all of our children could be walkers or bikers, but I think parents feel safer dropping them off. We are on Metropolitan Avenue, which is a very busy street where people are not always driving safely.”
The campus is nestled in a cozy neighborhood bordered by railyards and the Kansas River on the north, and Interstate 635 on the west. Family homes, small business, and important resources are connected by sidewalk-lined streets. New Stanley's neighborhood is so walkable that until recently, entire classes walked to the nearby public library together, expanding their selection of reading material and learning about their community along the way! And Coach Spears, first grade teacher Jennifer Mamerow, and their colleagues facilitated a Walking School Bus program, which helped kids walk safely as a group. Each Wednesday, school staff walked students home along three different routes. “The students loved walking home with us! There were a couple of times that I had parents try to pick students up from school and the students would banter with parents to see if they could just meet us at home,” remembers Ms. Mamerow.
The Walking School Buses were good for the kids and the grown ups. “I think school-based walking and biking are important to help kids start and end their day with stress relief, fresh air, and exercise,” says Coach Spears. “They can also increase their social skills by walking with neighbors.” Ms. Mamerow enjoyed developing stronger relationships with the students and their families. “I was able to have more authentic conversations and was able to create connections and memories with students,” she says. “Knowing where students live and what they are going home to, gives us as teachers a better understanding of our students and where they come from.”
While changing rules from the school district eliminated Walking School Bus programs in Kansas City, Kansas in 2019, New Stanley Elementary is still taking steps to prioritize walking and biking for exercise and transportation. The school hosts Girls on the Run and BikeWalkKC’s bike education programs. “It’s really rewarding to see our kids ride their bikes home from class,” says Coach Spears about the Maintain Your Ride program, which teaches DIY maintenance and offers the kids a chance to earn a bike to take home. “I love that they were able to get lights and a tire tool with their bike this year, too.”
But what do the kids think? BraShon says, “I like to ride my bike to school because it’s way quicker, I get exercise, and I like riding bikes.” Fowzia bikes “to feel the cool air.” Paris and Emanuel ride together after school, and they might like to ride near a lake or a park, or maybe "to the store or gas station if it was safer.”
New Stanley Elementary has a really good thing going. Approximately 220 of their students live very close to the school, the staff is deeply invested in the emotional and physical well-being of the community, and the students are eager to keep moving. New Stanley families walk and bike daily, not just for Walk to School Day or even Bike Month. Active living is part of the neighborhood culture.