After a 6 year tradition of monthly themed “Smart Walks,” Baldwin County Trailblazers partnered with Fairhope Elementary School in 2013 to launch the first daily Walking School Bus program in the state of Alabama. The popular WSB is now entering its 7th year of operation.
The Walking School Bus Team
Charlene Lee, Director
Charlene grew up riding horses and experimenting with how many flips in a row she could do on her backyard trampoline. After graduating from Auburn University, she worked as a high school PE teacher, coached gymnastics, and directed adventure therapy programs in adolescent psychiatry and alternative juvenile justice settings. She spearheaded the community building of the original Fairhopers Community Park which led to work on healthy community issues. Charlene’s passion for walk to school efforts was ignited by participating in the early Baldwin County Trailblazer initiatives encouraging local schools to participate in International Walk to School efforts. Charlene has now come full circle in using her diverse skills & experience in her current work on the Walking School Bus program. Charlene initiated the Trailblazer partnership with Fairhope Elementary School to establish Alabama’s first daily Walking School Bus program. Charlene’s hobbies are walking, cycling, hiking, reading and kayaking. In 2017, the City of Fairhope awarded Charlene the Volunteer of the Year award for her work in initiating the WSB.
Click HERE to view Charlene's Volunteer of the Year acceptance speech.
Cathy Hudson, FWE Coordinator
Cathy Hudson has been walking with the Walking School Bus program from the beginning days at the K-1 Center. She was very excited to continue to grow this healthy school program with Charlene Lee when she was transferred to Fairhope Elementary school in the Fall of 2011. Cathy was awarded the Mayor’s Volunteer of the Year Award in 2015 for her work with the Fairhope Elementary School Walking School Bus program, the FAST Summer Swim Team and her position on the Fairhope Recreation Board. Cathy continues to serve on the Rec Board and has been Coaching the FAST Summer Swim Team since 2001. Cathy and her husband Rick met as students at Virginia Tech. After graduation, they married and started their family in Dayton, Ohio. Their son Ross is living in Norfolk, VA working as a Nuclear Engineer for NAVSEA on submarines and aircraft carriers. Their daughter Olivia is at Colorado Mesa University completing her degree in Biology with hopes to enter the dental field. In her spare time, Cathy has joined some of her fellow teachers at FES running for exercise and in supporting some local charity fun runs.
Olivia Autrey, FWE Line Leader
I am a Greenville, Alabama native and have been participating in the Walking School Bus for four years. My daughter, Elise, and I first started walking when she was in Pre-K and have enjoyed every step. When I was a child I remember walking home from school but not so much how I got there. For us, the WSB is a great way to get the day moving with a little fresh air, positive energy, and seeing friends. Castle Walk Fridays are our favorite days! The connections I've made with other families through the WSB are life long and for that I'm very grateful. When we aren't at school you can find us boating, paddle boarding or practicing yoga.
Jennifer Manzella, FWE Line Leader
My name is Jennifer Manzella and I participate in the Walking School Bus with my daughter, who is in 2nd grade at FWES. We started walking with WSB her 1st day of kindergarten so she could walk into school with her friends from pre-school instead of going alone. Then, I realized I felt so much better getting that morning walk up the hill every day before I head to the office, so we never stopped! This year, I'm happy to be leading the 2nd wave of the Walking School Bus and helping all of our kiddos make it safely to school.
Rhonda Bishop, FWE Line Leader
My name is Rhonda Bishop and I have two sons, Matthew (3rd Grade) and Levi (2nd Grade). Growing up a Navy brat, I lived all over the U.S. until my dad retired and we moved to Saraland to be closer to family. After high school I joined the U.S. Coast Guard where I served active duty for 8 years. I earned my degree in Management of Human Resources and worked in the H.R. field for 15 years. I met my husband Alan, a Fairhope native, in 2007 and fell in love with this little town almost as fast as I fell in love with him. We've been married 11 years and love spending time outdoors so when we learned of the Walking School Bus it was a no-brainer that this would be something we would enjoy. We started walking with the WSB on Matthew's first day of Kindergarten. We love the WSB for so many reasons but I especially love it because it allows me to spend a few extra minutes with my boys in the mornings.
Wilson McDuff, FWE Walking Teacher
My name is Wilson McDuff. I was raised in Fairhope during the seventies and eighties. In 1989 I received my diploma from Fairhope High School. I went to Furman University for my bachelor's and the University of South Alabama for my master's. Fourteen years ago I began teaching at Fairhope Elementary. My wife’s name is Fritha and our 15 year old daughter’s name is Mae. She will be in the tenth grade this year. Our son’s name is Will. He is joining the Coast Guard. We have two dogs and two cats. My hobbies include, but are not limited to: reading, writing, historical research, paddle-boarding, chess, music, watching movies, sailing, learning, pickle ball, playing guitar, and going down to the pier early in the morning.
Jessie Patterson, FWE Crossing Guard
Jessie, Nora and Gwen have been walking to school for two years. The girls love to travel, dance, play soccer, guitar and piano. They both attend Fairhope West Elementary. Jessie grew up in Fairhope and has been a photographer for over 20 years. He loves photographing live music and has shot hundreds of musical acts ranging from Al Green to Willie Nelson. He owns Patterson Photo and Supply.
Claudia Hage-Wright, Facebook Coordinator
I am Claudia Hage-Wright and have 2 children. I grew up in Germany, moved to the UK when I was 19 and took up an American adventure with my small family of 4 in 2015. Sadly, we parents can not always enjoy everything with our children. This is where the power of social media can ease the problem a little. I aim to try and capture your children during their daily WSB fun, countdown, poem, whatever we might have going on and share it with you on the WSB Facebook page.
Allyson Russell, WSB Librarian
My family participated in the WSB for three years, and we loved every minute of it. Before coming to Fairhope, we lived in Louisiana and I homeschooled our oldest. Every year in April, which is National Poetry Month, he and I would copy short poems onto scraps of paper for Poem in Your Pocket Day and hand them out to all his friends at our homeschool co-op. When we started doing WSB with our two younger children, and I saw how the countdown worked, I conceived the idea to bring my love of poetry to our Fairhope friends! Beginning in March each year, I start handing out short poems to any child who wants one. I urge them to memorize the poems so that when April arrives they can say a poem for countdown. Memorizing poetry has many benefits for children. It helps them with literacy and public speaking, and gives them a sense of confidence of having achieved a goal. There's never any pressure to memorize though, and many of the children end up simply reading the poems instead! In 2020, I had just started handing out poems in the second week of March when everything stopped for COVID-19, so we missed out on Poetry Month. But I am already collecting short poems, and I will be supplying the young poets of WSB in time to celebrate in 2021. Even though we no longer participate in WSB, I am delighted to do everything I can to continue to get poetry into the minds and hearts of our kids.
Josh Warren, Volunteer
I am Josh Warren, a Montgomery Native and Fairhope Resident for the last 16 years. I have been a daily walking parent on the WSB for the last 4 years. My Job on the WSB is to help manage the front of the line and to coordinate the street crossings on Bayou Drive to allow the children to get up the hill to FES. The morning walk has become part of my daily routine and it throws my whole day off when I have to miss it. I enjoy the extra time spent with my son and getting to know the other parents and children and hearing the stories and adventures that the kids talk about. Being a member of the WSB team is a great honor for me and I look forward to continuing that for the Fairhope Feeder Schools.
Tammy Leytham, Volunteer
Tammy Leytham has been volunteering with the Walking School Bus for the several years, first starting out walking her great-nephew to kindergarten. Since then, she's pitched in to help with social media, as crossing guard and with car drop-off. She grew up in Mobile, graduated from Liberty University in Virginia, and worked more than 25 years as a journalist on the Gulf Coast and at newspapers across the South. Now a resident of Fairhope, she writes for various magazines, social media and websites. She loves to tout the wonderful attributes of the Eastern Shore, and volunteers in various ways throughout the community. Most days, you can catch her at Page & Palette, Refuge Coffee or the Fairhope Public Library. She also enjoys listening to live music at local venues, kayaking and paddleboarding.
Julie Gerstenschlager, Technology Support & FWE Walking Teacher
Julie is a fifth grade teacher at Fairhope West Elementary School. Her teaching experience spans from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade. For more than a decade she served as a Technology Coordinator & Technology Teacher at Orange Beach Elementary. Now she is putting that knowledge and experience to good use for the Walking School Bus! Julie lives in Fairhope with her husband and their two sons. With deep family roots in Fairhope, Julie and her family are always looking for local art and music to enjoy and support.