May 16, 2012 1 Comment
One of the challenges with any program or activity at a school is communications. What are the best methods for informing the school community about upcoming events? What about safety messages, bike parking considerations and the like?
It’s important to reach both the parents and the students. And of course they respond to different forms of communication, and different messages too.
With our Bike to Bryant and Eckstein Bikes! programs, we confess to not being experts on communication strategies! We’ve mostly learned by trying things, and then repeating the approaches that have worked, scrapping the ones that haven’t, and adapting all of the above based on lessons learned. Particularly at Eckstein Middle School, this is still a huge work in progress, as we honestly haven’t quite figured out how to best reach folks yet, despite trying a wide variety of communication techniques.
Some things that we have tried so far at Bryant and Eckstein:
- Articles and short announcements in weekly newsletters. Most schools have some form of weekly (at Bryant, it literally is “The Bryant Weekly”) that is distributed to the entire school community. This goes out to everyone, though it seems to vary in terms of the degree to which folks have time to read it.
- Shout-out in the daily email if your school has one. Both Bryant and Eckstein have a “big list” type email that goes out to most folks each day, and typically only deals with one or two topics. If you can get space here, it is a good way to bring some focus and emphasis to what you are doing. Great way to communicate in the lead-up to a big event.
- Direct email to folks who have already “signed up.” This is a great form of direct communication, but usually only limited to whatever email list you have assembled of folks who have expressed interest. Hard to expand the base with this one, but good for updates. This can be adapted into a google group or something similar.
- Good old fashioned signs and posters. This is one of our favorites. Much as we think of ourselves as living in a wired, connected society, sometimes folks really notice an old-school sign or poster, especially if hand-made and placed in a strategic location. Tyvek is fantastic for this. It is waterproof and you can write in permanent markers on it. You can get a roll at a hardware store. It also mates well with sandwich boards. Highly recommended!
- We are also excited about Bike to Bryant’s new “permanent” sign. It cost about $150 (funded by our Safe Routes grant) and provides both long-term “branding” and a daily reminder that our school is promoting biking, as well as a spot to insert updates and current information. Let us know if you want details, specs, etc.
- Enthusiasm and word of mouth. Another favorite and honestly in my opinion the single biggest way to get the word out and gin up interest. We have a couple of very enthusiastic parents who are consistently at school as families are arriving. Talking it up, whooping it up for kids who walk or bike, and reminding families of upcoming events is hugely helpful.
- Social media. We’ve been trying Facebook and Twitter for the Eckstein Bikes! program. We’re still in start-up mode, but this has potential. So far we have more participation (e.g., Facebook “likes”) from the general community than from Eckstein families, though we have some families tuning in too and the numbers are growing. I have a hunch for high school this is probably a great strategy. Middle schoolers seem to be transitioning such that some are interested in this, others not so much. Check us out at http://www.facebook.com/Ride2Class and/or follow us on twitter @Eckstein_Bikes. We’re having fun with it, and it’s been a good way to share what we’re doing with the broader community and connect with other walk/bike interests. I have also noticed that the Thornton Creek bike train program has used social media to great effect right here on this blog — lots of hits by parents reviewing routes and timing, etc.
- Graphics. Fun and creative graphics go a long way. Even better if generated by kids! But creative ones from parent volunteers can be really helpful too. These can of course be incorporated into many of the other communication approaches.
- Flyers and cards. We have used these just a little and to be honest haven’t found them to be that successful, especially given the amount of paper that is needed. That said, sometimes having something tangible to hand someone to provide information can certainly be useful.
How are you getting the word out about your walk and bike programs? Let us know!