There's a place in the urban East Bay where you might have to look twice to spot the school bus. That’s because it’s a special kind of bus: kids get off to climb trees and pick strawberries along the way; the drivers don’t need a special license; and -- most importantly -- it runs on sneaker feet, not wheels.
On weekday mornings at about 8:10, the walking school bus goes by a grassy vacant lot in Oakland, on its way to the next stop. After it picks up, this group of shoes walks, skips, and runs the half-mile or so to Sequoia Elementary School. KALW’s Mary Rees climbed aboard on a recent morning and brought back this audio postcard.
MARTIN ORTEGA: So there are bus stops along the way; we’ve grouped it sort of by sub-neighborhoods, if you will: these people live close to these people, so we group those families together so that it’s a coherent route to school. So the kids wait at the stop; the bus comes by; they get picked up, and they continue on towards the school. So it’s a school bus.
NAOMI HARTOG: I like walking past the curb where there’s another school bus, and we get to crash into them.
MARY REES: Are there many casualties, many injuries, when that happens?
NAOMI HARTOG: Not really, ‘cause everyone runs up the hill, and it’s really fun.
EVA KALANJ: Sometimes we see squirrels or cats.
MARTIN ORTEGA: Often our cat Mingo follows us, and because we don’t want him to, we have to exit the school bus, get off the school bus and walk him back home. We don’t want him walking all the way to the school with us. We’re not sure that he’d be able to find his way back.
CHRISTINE BOND: We make it to school on time, all the time, unlike when we were driving, which was somewhat hit or miss.
SAMANTHA MILLS: When I drived I was really unhappy, because I was all lonely because my brother didn’t go to the same school yet.
PILAR ORTEGA: It’s really fun because you get to see all your friends in the morning, because sometimes they’re in a different class than you, and you don’t get to see them that often, and you get to laugh, yeah.
CHRISTINE BOND: We were initially worried about what we would do during rainy season, but the kids actually love to walk in the rain, more so than the parents, but they get all the garb on, and then we just try and make sure they’re not totally soaked by the time they get to school.
SAMANTHA MILLS: Mommy, they already decorated their house. We should decorate ours on the weekend!
KATIA HAZEN: My name’s Katia Hazen; I’m the principal here at Sequoia Elementary. Parents have gotten together and mapped out routes where they can walk each other’s kids to school, and just the community that that builds: the kids come to school calmer.
ALEX BARLOW: We come out in force, in numbers, to show that we are part of the community and we’re invested in it.
SAMANTHA MILLS: Nothing can stop us!