School kids in Lakewood, Ohio, actually enjoy going to school in the morning. Why? Because this suburban city of about 52,000 just outside of Cleveland is missing one thing that almost every other school district in the country has — but without that one thing, getting to school is lot more fun for these Lakewood kids.
The one thing is — a fleet of school buses.
Every school kid in Lakewood walks to school — and home from school — every day. How’s that working out for them? Watch the above, four-minute mini-documentary to see for yourself. But here’s a spoiler alert: Lakewood school kids love it.
The walk-to-school approach may not be feasible in every community. The trend in city planning over the last several decades has been to build schools on the outskirts of town where open land is cheaper. The structures usually come with huge parking lots, and students either bus or, of they’re old enough, drive themselves to school.
Not so in Lakewood, where school buildings are located in residential areas and spaced so that every child has a school within walking distance. The city has always been designed that way — when it was incorporated in 1911, streetcars provided the main mode of transportation, so Lakewood has never been an automobile-oriented town.
But in 2000, the city embarked on a major project to upgrade its school facilities, getting rid of a number of school buildings. That would have been the perfect time to initiate a school bus program. Except that local residents and families were very clear — they liked walking. And kids loved walking to school.
“It’s a big social event every morning or afternoon,” says one parent, Katie Stallbaum. “You walk to school and the kids are running and playing and laughing. It’s a good thing for them to know what community is. I don’t think they’d get that if we weren’t walking.”
There are other benefits to a bus-free school system. The Lakewood school district estimates that it saves at least $1 million per year by doing without buses. Lakewood contracts with neighboring districts to transport students to out-of-town sports events, and a few buses are available for special needs students.
The all-walking program forces parents to become more involved with their children’s school day, as well.
“There’s sort of this spirit in Lakewood, get your kids walking,” says mom Kristine Pagsuyoin. “Kids will say, ‘I don’t feel like walking today.’ I know my response and many parents is, ‘Just start walking.’ It does create community that is hard to accomplish in districts where people are more spread out.”
There is another benefit to walking to school as well, according to a recent study. A survey of 20,000 school children in Denmark found that those who walked to school performed better on tests than kids who took the bus.
Lakewood Elementary School Principal Sandy Kozelka says that the same holds true for Lakewood school kids. “When they get to school, they’re ready to learn,” she says.
Check out the video to learn more about walking to school in Lakewood, Ohio.