Walking School Bus awards mark 25-year recognition of selfless volunteers

Publish Date : 21 Jun 2024
AT Mega Stars

Originally started by an Auckland bus operator, picked up by Auckland City Council and Launched with Gladstone Primary in 1999, the Waka Waewae or Walking School Bus has become a community institution led by thousands of mums, dads, grandparents, caregivers, and teachers, come rain, hail or sunshine over the past 25 years.

On a stormy Friday evening in June, many of the past and present volunteers, who have walked many kilometres to ensure the safe passage of tamariki to and from schools across Tāmaki Makaurau, gathered to give humble recognition to their peers.

“As part of part of a safety initiative to supervise our younger tamariki, the Waka Waewae has up to 1,200 volunteers walking every school term. Our largest bus can have as many as 50 children on it and they operate across the region,” says Teresa Burnett, General Manager Transport Safety, AT.

The Waka Waewae or Walking School Bus Programme is made possible through co-investment with Waka Kotahi and their Road Safety Promotions Activity Class for schools and supports AT’s Community Partnerships team to work alongside the community to enable the investment of time, effort and aroha made by these volunteers.

Last held in 2019, more than 400 people turned up to this year’s awards event, despite the weather, to recognise volunteers in five categories.

The winner of the supreme Te Whatu Manawa Award, which honours those who demonstrate an exceptional level of independence, dedication and perseverance to meeting the needs of families, whilst safely navigating children to and from school was won by Charlotte Castle, Principal at Redhill School.

Charlotte was nominated for not only adopting the essence of the Walking School Bus programme independently at her school since 2017, but also being a committed driver, walking home with her students every day regardless of the weather.

Her nomination also adds Charlotte wanted her students to get home safely and the opportunity to interact with parents on a less formal basis, an approach that has helped her build trust in the school community.

She has also inspired several other teachers and teacher aids to get involved, who all speak of the benefits in forming connections outside of the classroom.

“We would like to congratulate Charlotte, her school and all of the other award winners, who tirelessly dedicate themselves to the Waka Waewae and find ways to make going to and from school, safe, fun and informative every day. You are wonderful, inspiring people who deserve recognition,” says Rhanae Ngawaka, Te Ara Haepapa Delivery Leader, Ngati Rehua Ngati Wai ki Aotea (Manawhenua).

Other winners, who all embody the values of the awards to be recognised are:

Ivy Bright , Hauraki School (Teacher)

The Manaakitanga Award recognises a school, school principal or staff member who represents their school in exemplifying the core values of compassion, kindness and support for the walking school bus coordinators, parent volunteer drivers and children through their actions, advocacy or leadership.

Kirsten Robinson, Waterlea School, Mangere Bridge Walking School Bus

Whanaungatanga Award; awarded to a Walking School Bus Coordinator who embodies the principles of connection, relationship building and mutual support within their walking school bus volunteer community. The recipient actively seeks to create a sense of belonging and inclusion for all community members, regardless of background or circumstance.

Mechan van der Westhuizen, Whangaparaoa School

Tiakitanga Award; acknowledges an exceptional volunteer driver who consistently dedicates time to the walking school bus programme and embodies the spirit of guardianship and responsibility towards the well-being and safety of the children in their care.

Kirsten Robinson, Wallace Road/Muir Road Route, Waterlea School

Auahatanga Award; recognises the most creative walking school bus (route) that emphasises ingenuity, imagination, and a dedication to making the journey to school stimulating for students.

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