APPLETON, Wis. — A little after 7:30 a.m., Cathy Porter can be spotted walking along Prospect Ave. in Appleton, Wis., toward Jefferson Elementary School.
She pulls a yellow wagon behind her filled with backpacks. A small group of children walk with her on the sidewalk.
Four days a week, Porter walks students to and from school on a one-mile route, with designated stops where more students join or depart the group.
The walking school bus, as its called, is designed to help both parents and students.
“Just to help kids get to school safely and give parents a little bit of an at-ease feel that their younger kids are going to get to school safely and on time,” Porter said on her morning walk.
Porter is the dean of students at Jefferson and Fox River Academy. She started walking with students a few years ago, but this is the first year she's walked with the kids both before and after school.
“It’s fun to see the kids in the morning, a good connection with them,” Porter said. “We talk about things along the way. Whether it’s something we see or we do a little scavenger hunt. We look for different birds, listen for different things.”
Jefferson and Fox River Principal Lori Leschisin said the program is about making getting to school a little easier for both students and parents.
“They get to know Cathy really well on a real personal basis — that is what we want with all our kids is a great relationship — and the kids get to school and they’re here,” she said. “That’s the most important thing. It may only be a few kids at a time, but every child matters at our school.”
Leschisin said Porter is the right person for the job.
“She’s always like, ‘What can I do?' 'What can I do that’s best for the kids?’” she said. “She doesn’t accept that this is the way it’s going to be if something isn’t working right. She’s always trying to find what’s the next thing we can do, what else can we try, what have we not done."
Porter said the walks are memorable for her. She said she hopes they’re memorable for students, too.
“That’s what they remember. They remember the walking school bus,” she said. “They remember what we talked about. They remember bringing their umbrellas and walking in the rain; and running through the snow.”