Superintendent's Notebook: Portland schools encourage students to commute by foot, pedal

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They picked the prettiest day of spring for National Bike and Walk to School Day on May 8. Hundreds of children in the Portland Public Schools participated, and so did I. Our district is promoting biking and walking as one of several initiatives to encourage sustainability.

I began my day by biking to the Portland Regional Chamber’s Eggs & Issues breakfast, where Gov. Paul LePage was the speaker. I then rode to King Middle School and meandered through the Deering neighborhood, past Deering High School, Lincoln Middle School and Longfellow Elementary School, before reaching my office at Portland Arts and Technology High School.

Along the way, I saw the city’s beautiful tulip garden, a full bike rack in front of Longfellow, and students enjoying an outside class at Lincoln. That day, Lincoln school buses stopped a half mile from the building and students walked the rest of the way with parents and staff. Those who arrived at school by foot or bike were entered into a drawing for prizes such as bike helmets, bike locks and reflectors.

Lyseth Elementary School organized a Bike to School event. The school is installing a new bike rack with funding from a grant and the Lyseth Parent Teacher Association. Ocean Avenue Elementary School holds monthly Walk & Roll to School Days all year long. This month, Slugger, the Portland Sea Dogs mascot, led students on their walk from a nearby park to school.

Reiche Community School and East End Community School are piloting a Walking School Bus. Every day throughout the spring, trained adult volunteers walk with groups of students along established routes to the peninsula’s two elementary schools.

We are reducing traffic and pollution because fewer parents drive students to school. Children are getting exercise by walking as much as two miles a day. Starting the day that way makes them more energetic and ready to concentrate.

The early results from the pilot are promising. About 60 students are walking to East End and Reiche every day, and they give the Walking School Bus rave reviews.

“We have had no getting-ready-for-school battles in the morning,” reports one East End Community School mother. “My daughter loves to walk places and the Walking School Bus motivates her to get up and out in the morning.”

Another East End resident said that she and her young daughter get excited when they see the children and adult volunteer walk by in the morning. “It’s brought more life to the neighborhood,” she said.

We hope to build on the pilot next year by starting Walking School Buses at more of our elementary schools.

Students’ safety is an understandable concern, especially in an urban environment. That’s why we designed our newest school, Ocean Avenue, with walking and biking in mind: Students can enter the school grounds without crossing bus lanes or car drop-off areas. As we work on improvements to five of our other mainland elementary schools, we will look to make similar accommodations in order to encourage more students to walk and bike.

If you have children, friends or neighbors who attend Portland’s public schools, I encourage you to take advantage of these beautiful spring days and join them biking or walking to school.

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Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk writes this column monthly. He can be reached at Read his blog at