MADISON – Officials in one central Maine school district are revamping the school transportation system and encouraging more students to walk to school.

School Administrative District 59 will launch a “walking school bus” program this week, will organize pickup points for elementary students next year and will go to one bus run next year — to encourage students’ healthy lifestyles and save money, district officials say. SAD 59 includes the towns of Athens, Madison and Starks.

Starting Thursday, elementary school students will have the option of walking to school.

The “walking school bus,” made up of elementary students and adult supervisors, will leave at 8 a.m. from SAD 59’s central office on Weston Avenue.

The group of first- through fourth-graders will then walk six-tenths of a mile to Madison Elementary School, said Bob Hagopian, the district’s transportation supervisor. Students will be shown how to walk along and cross roads. “We want them to learn how to walk to school safely,” Hagopian said.

The program will be held every Tuesday and Thursday until the end of the school year. If children live out of town, parents may drop them off to participate, Hagopian said. Or, parents may walk as well, he said.

The walking school bus is a project of the Maine Safe Routes to School Program, which is implemented by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine in partnership with the Maine Department of Transportation.

“The goal of the Safe Routes to School Program is to make biking or walking to school a regular part of students’ daily habits. Special events like the walking school bus are a fun and exciting way to incorporate those types of activities into a student’s day,” said Allison Vogt, executive director at the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

Starting in the fall, elementary school students will walk up to a mile to gather at pickup points and be bused to the elementary school, Hagopian said.

Elementary students who live downtown are currently picked up door-to-door, and kindergarten students will still be picked up at their doors.

The town already requires students in grades 5 through 12 who live downtown to meet at the junior high school. High school students then catch a bus to Madison Area Memorial High School. The junior high includes grades 5 through 8.

There will be one bus run, starting next year. Officials have reorganized bus routes so students in all grades, kindergarten through 12, will ride together. The measure was approved by the school board this winter and will cut 500 miles from daily bus runs, Hagopian said. That equals about $175 per day in savings, he said.