COLUMBIA — Bill Rastorfer and his wife, Yong, leaned against their car Monday at Lion-Stephens Park with anxious expressions on their faces.
The couple was waiting for their son, Ethan, and Yong Rastorfer's niece, Yun Bin Chong, both in the fourth grade at Lee Expressive Arts Elementary School
Ethan and Yun are among 14 children walking to the park after school as part of the Walking School Bus program, an initiative of Columbia's PedNet Coalition.
This is the first year Lee School has participated in the program's afternoon pickup component. It's expected to alleviate the school's afternoon traffic congestion and give children a chance to enjoy the outdoors.
"It’s really hectic picking them up from the school. It’s so crowded and really congested," Bill Rastorfer said. "It should be a fun walk. My son is pretty active, anyway."
Yong Rastorfer said she doesn't think the walk — less than a mile and a half — is too long for children, adding that she had to walk two miles from home to school every day as a child.
She looked away and spotted Ethan and Yun Bin coming from Walnut Street with their schoolmates.
"They look so cute in line," she said excitedly.
Her son, Ethan, had mixed feelings about the walk.
"It’s very fun, except my legs just hurt a little from walking," the 9-year-old soccer player said. "But it’s not that bad. I will keep doing this."
Just a few cars away, Kelie Morgan signed a sheet to confirm that she had picked her 6-year-old daughter up.
Morgan said she was excited when she found out about the program.
"Kids nowadays have it too easy. They need to exercise," she said.
Morgan said not only does the program promote a healthy life style, it helps teach children about responsibility and to follow rules while walking on the streets.
While she was a little concerned about safety at first, Morgan said she was relieved the students don't cross any major streets.
"The nice thing is that they have those overpasses for kids to walk on," she said.
Lee Elementary has been participating since the Walking School Bus program began, said Kiersa Toll, the parent organizing the program this year. But this is the first year the school is trying out the afternoon pickup program, she said. The program also has a morning dropoff component, in which children gather at a specific spot and walk to school together.
Toll said the program benefits Lee Elementary because the traffic situation is particularly bad there. She cited converging streets and ongoing construction in the area.
There will always be at least two adults — including some MU students — guiding and overseeing the safety of the children, she said.
Although it was a little hectic trying to gather the children along the way, Toll said the program's still worthwhile.
"I think it is a good program and is going to go really well this year," she said.