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Racine Unified tackles attendance issues, finds success in ‘walking school bus’ program

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RACINE -- Like many school districts, Racine Unified is trying to address problems with attendance. They are now having success with a new program -- the "walking school bus."

Through a partnership with United Way, volunteers meet at Julian Thomas Community School where most students are forced to commute. They, just like a bus, take kids to school by way of the sidewalk.

Every Friday morning, Jamie Racine and volunteers with United Way put out their brightest vests, their walking shoes, and hit the road.

"We get here at 7 a.m., and then we spend about the next hour to hour-and-a-half, depending on how quick the kids get ready, walking with kids to school," Racine said.

Like a normal bus, this "walking school bus" makes stops on the way to Julian Thomas Community School. They knock on participating family's doors to walk their children to class.

"Sometimes it's hard for me to get her there sometimes, because if our car's down or something like that. It's very helpful for all of us," said Stefanie Delray, a parent.

Organizers say it is about more than just getting students to school. Instead of a quick car ride, they have time to develop a sense of community -- and learn how to get around safely without a vehicle.

"I think our lives are very isolated, and this is an opportunity for us to be out walking, to be visible and to get more kids comfortable walking safely through the neighborhood," Racine said.

Once the students get to school, a reward is waiting in the classroom.

"I think the kids have a lot of fun -- especially when there's hot cocoa waiting on the other end," Racine said.

This program teaches them it is OK to step outside their comfort zones -- with a little guidance along the way.

Both Racine Unified and United Way hope to grow the program -- and get more routes and more students involved in the future. They are also looking for more volunteers to lead the walks. CLICK HERE to learn how you can volunteer.

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