On a typical Wednesday morning at the corner of 100th and Souvenir in Chomedey, you’ll find Carmela Sacco, Principal of Souvenir Elementary School, waiting to greet students on their walk to school. From this point on, the students, volunteer supervisors and Sacco will all walk the rest of the way to school together, forming what is called Trottibus—the walking school bus.

Trottibus is a province-wide initiative by The Canadian Cancer Society and Québec en Forme, encouraging community members and students within walking distance of their school to get a little extra exercise and fresh air.

Back in 2011, Souvenir Elementary jumped on the occasion to offer the service to their community. Immediately, several meetings were held at the school board level as well as with parents and school staff, and within a matter of weeks, the school managed to get the project off the ground with enough parent volunteers and interested students. “Our school has a huge population of students who are zoned as walkers,” explains Sacco. “But before we started Trottibus, many of those students wouldn’t walk to school—they would be driven by a parent who would drop the student off at school in the morning.” At the time that Souvenir began the project, almost 200 students were zoned as walkers.

With such a large population of students living within walking distance of the school, the Souvenir Trottibus organization team had to devise several different walking routes to accommodate everyone and get them to school on time. Each Trottibus has two adult ‘drivers’, one at the front and one at the rear. All students and volunteers wear brightly coloured Trottibus pinnies to identify them as they walk. Even their pet mascot, Dexter the dog, wears a brightly coloured pinnie.

“At the beginning of the process, I worked with a representative at the school to get everything going. We provided the school with promotional material, as well the pinnies for the students and adult volunteers. The project took off quickly,” says Geneviève Legrueic, Development Agent for Trottibus with the Canadian Cancer Society. “We started promoting the program a few years ago and we now have over 60 participating schools across the province,” she adds.

For the first two years, Souvenir organized their Trottibus on Wednesdays. This year, the school has increased their commitment to the initiative by adding Fridays as well. The program usually runs from the start of the school year up until the very cold weather hits, and then picks up again in the spring. Sacco and her team have even made it possible for students who are not zoned as walkers to participate, by designating a few “bus stops” along the routes where parents can drop off their child and he/she can walk the rest of the way to school with the Trottibus.

One of Souvenir’s teacher volunteers for Trottibus, Naima Meziani, says she did not hesitate to commit to the project. “I live close to the school and usually walk anyway, so I thought, why not? It’s nice for students to be outside and it puts everyone in a good mood,” says Meziani. “It seems like walking to school is something that the new generations have lost, and it’s nice for them to experience it, even just a little bit.” Though schools generally organize their Trottibus in the morning, it seems to provide a sense of community for all involved. Trottibus adult volunteers teach the student walkers about pedestrian safety and make walking time fun by singing cheerful songs.

According to Trottibus promotional information found on the Cancer Society’s website, Trottobus’s main objectives are to promote and instill healthy lifestyle habits. For youth, the encouragement of regular physical activity is key, along with learning about being a good pedestrian, feeling part of a group, increasing concentration and having fun with peers. The surrounding neighborhood benefits with a decrease in the number of cars in the school area in the morning period, ultimately leading to a safer and greener city.

Gaëlle Absolonne, Director of School Organization and Transportation at the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board, agrees. “The schools that participate in Trottibus report that they definitely see a difference in the students who walk to school—they are more energized and happier,” she says. “Of all the schools we currently have participating in this, Souvenir Elementary definitely stands out as a leader—they are just as gung ho now as they were when they first began,” adds Absolonne.

To find out more about getting Trottibus started at your child’s school, visit the Cancer Society’s website or call 514-255-5151 to speak to a Development Agent