PAWTUCKET – After becoming Pawtucket’s second community school, the Henry J. Winters Elementary School, at 481 Broadway, followed in the footsteps of Agnes Little by kicking off a Walking School Bus initiative last Tuesday, Oct. 9.

“Our goal is to get our students to school on time,” said Winters School Community School Resource Coordinator Jennifer Surmeian. “They make it in time for breakfast and this is also to help build relationships.”

Surmeian was appointed as the community school resource coordinator by the Pawtucket School Department. She said it is her job to make relationships and partnerships with businesses in the community and bring in new programs before, during and after school.

Surmeian said that the Walking School Bus program right now has 23 students on two routes, a north route and a south route, with two teachers on each route. The teachers walk their way through their specific routes, stopping at students’ houses to pick up them up and walk them to school.

“Our goal is to be out every single day until the holiday break, Dec. 21, and then pick up in the new year,” Surmeian said. “We are doing this every day, rain or shine. Last Friday in the rain we purchased ponchos for the students and we are trying to get umbrellas donated. The church across the street is going to donate hats and gloves for when the weather gets cold.”

Since Oct. 9, staff have had 100 percent attendance from the student walkers. The program is currently for students who have had issues with being late or absent. Teachers can make sure these kids get to school and get there on time. Surmeian said the initiative started with those students and the routes they live in. From there, other students have gotten involved.

“Right now we have just two teachers per route so I don’t see it getting too much bigger unless we have parent volunteers,” she said.

Agnes Little Elementary School was previously designated as the city’s first community school and also participates in the Walking School Bus program. Surmeian said Little has 35 students involved while Winters has 23. She said staff are always on the lookout for students who want to join that are already on the route. They are also trying to recruit more parents to be involved.

While the supervised walking to school gets the students in on time, the group atmosphere also helps in building relationships. Rhode Island is slowly getting on board with initiatives that are prevalent nationwide, Surmeian said.

She said she hopes local educators can continue this program in the future but the American Federation of Teachers Innovation Grant received to run it is given on a year-to-year basis.

As the community school resource coordinator, Surmeian comes up with the programs. She said the school also hosts BOKS, a fitness class before school begins every morning, held from 7:20 to 8 a.m. There are four different teachers and 28 to 30 students participating in it. The University of Rhode Island was also set to start a family cooking class this week.

“We will have our first Homework Dinner coming up where teachers, students and their parents spend one hour doing homework and getting help before a family dinner,” Surmeian said. “We have lots of good things going on here.”

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