"Walking School Bus" Reflects Morehouse School of Medicine's Continued Commitment to Adopted School E.L. Connally


E.L. Connally Elementary School implemented a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program this past school year aimed at making it safer to walk and bike to school while promoting physical fitness. Looking now at its impact, the success of the endeavor could be measured in the number of fewer cars on the roads or in the tally of calories burned. There is something less quantifiable, however, that gets Principal Lincoln Woods revved up.

"The SRTS program has given us a tangible activity in which we have given the responsibility of being 'bus drivers' of the walking team and walking bus route 'neighborhood block captain' to the parents and caregivers of our students," he said. "As a result, there is a better energy among our parents and the school administration."

The SRTS program at Connally was inspired by Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) President and Dean Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice's adoption of the educational facility in 2014 to help improve overall student performance. In place in communities throughout the nation, SRTS programs work to make hoofing it and pedaling more appealing transportation options while improving safety, air quality and health. The programs are marked by "walking school buses," or groups of students joined by one or more adults.

MSM's work with the school has significance in that it builds upon the work lead by MSM to plan the Atlanta Promise Neighborhood (APN) Program, which focused on improving the Washington High School cluster area that occupies the west side of Atlanta. The region is contiguous with the Atlanta University Center where MSM sits.

The SRTS program at Connally was aided by the Fulton County Sheriff's Office, which outfitted participants with reflective vests and provided pedestrian safety training. The impact has been impressive.

"We have gotten more parents involved in the school, and we have gotten more kids walking. The community is looking at things in a different eye," Donald Speaks, project director with MSM’s Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine, said of the now community-led program.

The "walking school buses" will continue to come in handy next school year when Venetian Hills Elementary School shutters and merges with Connally, causing a dramatic rise in the number of learners.

"The more students who live in the present community who are 'walking bus team members,' the more safe they will all be from a pedestrian perspective," Woods said. "As we merge our students' populations, (SRTS) will enhance our efforts to promote fitness to our students. Finally, the more private vehicle traffic which we can discourage will raise the air quality at the school for everyone!"

MSM's other efforts at Connally include the mentoring of students, plus the outfitting of Connally's new Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) lab.

"The adoption of Connally Elementary School by MSM President Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice has opened to door to so many resources from both Morehouse School of Medicine and other entities, truly accelerating the transition of our school," Woods said.