Waterloo Regional Block Parent Program Still Here, Still Needed, Still Working!
Collaborating to build safe, connected and engaged neighbourhoods
Region of Waterloo – The Waterloo Regional Block Parent Program is working with partners to broaden the scope of programs available in the Region to create safe, connected and engaged neighbourhoods. The Waterloo Regional Block Parent Program is collaborating with the Canadian Cancer Society and Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region to provide opportunities for elementary students in local schools to be road ready, including the Waterloo Region Walking School Bus and the Sidewalk Smarts Program.
Since 1977, The Waterloo Regional Block Parent Program has served Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and the surrounding rural communities, by creating a network of Block Parent homes for people of all ages to go to in an emergency situation. The familiar red and white Block Parent sign is a symbol that indicates an adult is available to provide assistance—should the need arise. For over 40 years, the Block Parent Program has focused on creating a community that provides a sense of safety, resiliency, and independence in our children and youth—where they feel safe going outdoors and being more physically active. Partnering with the Canadian Cancer Society on the Walking School Bus and Student Transportation Services on the Sidewalk Smarts program has provided a great opportunity to enhance the presence of Block Parents in the community beyond the Block Parent Window Sign Program.
“We have branched out by collaborating with other organizations, but Block Parent signs are still in windows of homes across the Region, and they continue to indicate that people are available to assist in an emergency, and has shown neighbours that Block Parents are kind, caring, police-screened and trained adults who want to build a sense of safety in their community,” said Tara Mondou, Chair of the Waterloo Regional Block Parent Program.
Launched in 2018, the Walking School Bus (WSB), funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, was created to provide opportunities for students to incorporate daily physical activity into their morning routine by walking to school, and to encourage them to build and practice their road and pedestrian safety skills. Working alongside the WSB Coordinator Colleen Cooper, the Block Parent Program is taking an active role by supporting the recruitment, screening, and training of the Walking School Bus adult volunteers.
Working with the Region’s schools, the Walking School Bus program recruits adult volunteers (Walk Leaders) to accompany elementary school students along a planned walking route on the way to school, while educating them on neighbourhood and street safety. Over the past few years, more than 12 schools across the Region have initiated the program and more are scheduled to launch over the 2019/20 school year.
“It gives me a chance to get out in the morning and to meet my neighbours. I like that the kids get exercise and outdoor time, and their parents get a short break—a break from the rush to get kids off and ready for school,” said Walk Leader, Deborah Eames, from King Edward Public School. “It’s cute. They all rush to talk to me, tell me what they did last night, what their dog did—it’s fun for me.”
While Block Parents, the Canadian Cancer Society, and Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region have been working together since the launch of the Walking School Bus Program, it was in 2018 that they all came together with Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services, Cycling Into the Future, Region of Waterloo Transportation Division, and Waterloo Region Children’s Safety Village to create the Sidewalk Smarts program which will launch in November 2019. The Program provides both theory and practical experience for students in grades 3 and 4 to help them learn the rules of the road when walking, rolling, or biking in their neighbourhoods.
“The Block Parent Program provided an important perspective in a partnership of safety experts assembled to develop the Sidewalk Smarts program. They consistently encouraged our partners to consider the family perspective; helping to package complex material into simple activities that appeal to students, and to create a take-home tool that will help parents assess and continue to coach children’s pedestrian skills after the program is completed,” said Leslie Maxwell, School Travel Planning Supervisor, Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region.
“Waterloo Regional Block Parent Program’s commitment to advancing safe, walkable communities for children and youth has allowed them to be a key partner with Public Health and a number of other organizations in the development of a new program to teach pedestrian safety skills to students in grades 3 and 4. Their contributions to this collaborative effort has strengthened the quality of this program,” said Annette Collins, Public Health Nurse, Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services.
Determined to fulfill their decades-long mission of Creating Safer Communities, One Block at a Time, Block Parents’ on-going passion for helping children, commitment to building neighbourhoods, and enthusiasm to sustain their longevity, has proved their value in the Region and has illustrated their ability to collaborate on programs like the Walking School Bus and Sidewalk Smarts.
“These partnerships have provided a unique opportunity to enhance the presence, vision, and values of the Block Parent Program in our community,” said Tara Mondou. “And I am proud of the good work that our Block Parent volunteers—Block Parents, Directors, Committee Members and Walk Leaders—do to continue to show that our organization is as needed as it has always been, since 1977.”