MASON CITY | Light snow and blustery winds were no joke on April Fool's Day, but three hardy Roosevelt Elementary students braved single-digit wind chills during their first "ride" this spring on the walking school bus.
Rain canceled Monday's kickoff of this semester's program, but for one well-bundled 6-year-old, Tuesday's harsh elements were nothing new.
"I'm used to the cold weather," said Sam Sullivan as he walked with 9 1/2-year-old twins Drake and Derek Loeschen near the intersection of 21st Street Southwest and South Madison Avenue.
The trio was guided by the twins' mother, Deanna Loeschen, who's new to the program this year. Her employer, Cerro Gordo County Public Health, coordinates the program and allows her time off each Tuesday to lead Roosevelt's one-mile, half-hour route, which has seven stops and 11 children.
She and her sons live outside city limits near roads without sidewalks, which makes heading to school on foot a challenge. For her, the walking school bus is a chance to sneak in some physical activity.
"It's a good opportunity for my children and myself to get out and exercise," she said. "I hope other bosses will let their employees do this."
Active transportation to school among all Mason City elementary students has increased from 7 percent to 12.3 percent since the program began in 2011 after receiving grants from the Wellmark Foundation and Iowa Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to School program, according to Kelly Huinker, health promotion service manager at Cerro Gordo County Public Health.
For Deanna's passengers, the walking school bus is a time to practice traffic safety skills through fun games. Sullivan said he likes to guess how soon a stoplight will change and to carefully follow the leader when approaching the "big traffic light" at the intersection of Highway 65 and 19th Street.
A part of the program last year, Sullivan knows his path to Roosevelt by heart and shared every turn and detail.
Morning routes are offered Monday through Friday at all four elementary schools in Mason City through the conclusion of the school year on June 9, Huinker said.
The program averages about 70 students and 20 volunteers per session, which include young or retired adults, parents, teachers and volunteers from local businesses.
If children want to participate but do not live along a route, they can meet the group at a corner by either walking there or being dropped off by a parent.
For more information or to volunteer contact the Health Department at 641-421-9312.