As a group of children walked home together from school in Providence, R.I., they held hands and played the I Spy guessing game. When they reached a busy intersection, an adult accompanying them prodded, "What's the rule?"
"Behind the line!" they said in unison, as they stepped back from the edge of the curb and waited for the walk signal.
Shortly after, the group stopped in front of 8-year-old Jaiden Guzman's house. He said goodbye to his friends and raced to his front door. His mother waved, and the rest of the walking school bus continued on its way.
For a growing number of children in Rhode Island and other states, the school day starts and ends in the same way — they walk with their classmates and an adult volunteer to and from school. Walking school buses are catching on in districts nationwide because they are seen as a way to fight childhood obesity, improve attendance rates and ensure that kids get to school safely.
Many programs are funded by the federal Safe Routes to School program, which pays for infrastructure improvements and initiatives to enable children to walk and bike to school.
Robert Johnson of the Missouri-based PedNet Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for transit alternatives, said the success of the programs reflects a growing interest in getting kids more active.
In 2012, about 30 percent of students living within a mile of school walked there in the morning, and 35 percent walked home in the afternoon, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School. Those numbers have increased by about 6 percentage points since 2007.