HARTFORD — - It's 7:15 a.m. and Sylvia Garcia is starting the school bus.
But she doesn't need keys for the ignition or gasoline in the tank, because this bus is foot-powered.
Garcia operates what is called a "walking school bus" to and from McDonough Elementary School.
Her route is short, less than a half-mile from her Park Terrace home to the school on Hillside Avenue. But it provides peace of mind to parents as a safer alternative to having students walking alone and unsupervised through neighborhoods and across busy intersections.
Garcia, 34, walks the route with about a dozen neighborhood children who follow her, single-file, carrying small neon-colored flags and holding onto a rope. She has her own large flag, which she uses to alert motorists that her "bus" is crossing the street. The group includes her 5-year-old son, Calvin Williams. In the morning, her 14-year-old son, Ilya Garcia, helps by bringing up the rear of the bus before he heads off to high school.
"It's easy once you get the kids to know you're in charge," Garcia said, adding that her group picked up the routine faster than she thought they would and now shows up early at her mailbox, ready to go.
"They yell, 'Miss Sylvia!' to let me know if I'm late," she said.
The school system has reduced bus routes and increased mandatory walking distances to save money on transportation, and was looking for ways to ensure that children got to school safely. Garcia volunteered to help.
"The first thing I said was, 'I wish they had that when I was walking my daughter to high school,'" she said, adding that this was her first venture into volunteering at the school.
Garcia volunteered again a week or so later when Calvin was knocked over during an incident in the school cafeteria. She agreed to monitor the lunch periods and breakfast before school, then also added working in the school store three days a week and volunteering in the family resource center. She was recently elected president of the McDonough parent teacher organization.
Garcia said she realizes that budget issues have put a strain on school employees and that complaining about it won't change the situation.
"I thought I might as well come in and be part of the solution," she said.
Glenda Rodriguez, who runs the family resource center, said Garcia has become an integral part of the school community.
"She's been like my right hand," Rodriguez said. "She's doing a wonderful job."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at