Director, Portland Walking School Bus program
Betsy Critchfield went to school to become a dentist. And she still might be one someday. But for now, she’s the director of the Portland Walking School Bus program, and she couldn’t be happier about that.
“I’d always been civic-minded in high school and college,” says the 25-year-old Waynflete and Amherst College grad. “I love to be interacting with all these families. Helping them keeps me going.”
The Portland Walking School Bus program is a collaborative initiative among the Portland schools, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Safe Routes to Schools program. The Portland program began last spring and started up again this fall with K-5 school children from four Portland elementary schools taking part.
Critchfield’s job is to meet with families to explain the program, find volunteers, coordinate walking routes and trouble-shoot problems. She walked three mornings a week last spring on different routes to make sure it was working smoothly. She also works on getting support from local businesses and schools.
Critchfield, of Portland, says she applied for the job on a whim. She had always been active outdoors, whether building houses with Habitat for Humanity or working for the Mississippi Job Corps during one college summer. As she was finishing up her coursework last year, it occurred to her that the career in dentistry that she was preparing for was much more sterile than the volunteer work she had been drawn to. She heard about the Walking School Bus program from her cycling group and realized that it dovetailed with her desire to be actively helping in the community. The program also reminded her of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign for children.
“I was thrilled when I got the job,” she says.
Critchfield’s resume attests to her qualifications for the position. Since 2006, she has been the race director for the Sloan Critchfield Memorial 5K Spring Sprint, in honor of her older brother, who committed suicide. She co-chairs her high school’s alumni fund, in charge of recruiting recent grads. Critchfield is also enrolled in the Institute for Civic Leadership’s Emerging Leaders program this fall.
Critchfield is researching grants right now in hopes of keeping the Walking School Bus rolling once the funding runs out next spring. Critchfield says the program is a great solution to several problems that face local families and school children. Because they love the walk, children are much more eager to get up and out the door on time. There’s also less bullying than there is on buses because groups are limited to eight-15 kids.
Whatever happens to the program, though, she hopes to continue to make a difference in the community.
“My roots are strongly tied to Maine,” she says. “We need younger people to come back to Maine. I’d like to be able to have an impact in the community.”