Getting the Word Out

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!

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Wedgwood Group Ride Update

Two Wedgwood group rides have occurred so far, and the trend is really inspiring! We had four children on our first ride (which, while a small turnout, is still terrific!), however we more than tripled our numbers during our second ride: 13 kids showed up with their families. Wow!

This Friday is Bike to School Day, and I can’t wait to see our numbers triple again! We will be meeting at Top Pot doughnuts at 8:00am, and leaving at 8:30 for school. We will also be joined by the Bryant Elementary bike to school crowd, and while I wouldn’t be surprised to see half of Bryant at Top Pot, I think Wedgwood may just surprise us all with the turnout!

If you are a Wedgwood parent or student, track your trips this month to be eligible for prizes and to challenge yourself to get on that bike everyday!

Thornton Creek Bike Train Update

The Thornton Creek bike trains continue to amaze me. While our numbers hover around 30 kids (which is amazing!) we continually see new faces and more kids expressing interest. We are eager to grow this program–I am secretly hoping to have a huge turnout this Friday, which is Bike to School Day!

For those of you who have been riding to school, whether in bike trains or not, you can track your trips throughout bike to school month to challenge yourself and win prizes! Track your trips, ride in bike trains, and enjoy this incredibly beautiful city in the spring!

What’s more fun than an obstacle course?

One thing we’ve found at Bryant over the years is that you attract kids by making biking very fun. No surprise there and it’s really not very hard as biking is so inherently fun anyway. Good to remember though as you plan your bike to school events.

We hope to highlight some of these fun activities here. One activity that kids have enjoyed is the Bike to Bryant obstacle course.

Over the years, we’ve built our own ramps, teeter totters, jumps, and other obstacles. After a couple events with drab plywood obstacles, we had the brainstorm to paint them in fun colors with bikey sayings like “Be Cool, Bike to School” on them. Painting and building the ramps and jumps is part of the fun, and a great way to get kids involved in the project.

But the painting and building isn’t nearly as much fun as the actual riding. The kids have a blast and get to work on their bike handling skills too.

We’ve been doing this for a few years now, usually incorporating it into a celebration event towards the end of Bike to School Month. Last year we provided some cold treats as well, for an “Obstacles and Popsicles” event!

If you want to make your own obstacle course, we’re happy to provide some tips. It is mostly about being creative and involving the experts – the kids!

We’ve used a variety of pieces of plywood, usually 1/2″ or so (sometimes 3/4″) with 2 x 4s or wider to create the lip for ramps. We’ve found a few ways to rig up teeter totters as well. We’d be happy to share details.

Recent additions have included a colorful rumble strip, some snakey bike boards that are a challenge to ride on, and half hoops mounted on bamboo poles to ride through. There are so many more ideas; be creative! We’ve found that scrap wood works just fine for this, so it doesn’t need to be expensive, and these can be built with minimal tools and skills (we know that because… well, we were able to build them!).

We’ve also taken the obstacles on the road. They’ve been used at Laurelhurst, and also for the Fiets of Parenthood family biking extravaganza a couple years ago. This afternoon we’re going to try them at the inaugural Eckstein Bikes! Bike to School Month kickoff event. If you’d like to borrow a few obstacles  for an event, let us know and we might be able to set you up.

A couple of safety tips are worth noting. It helps to control the course with yellow caution tape around the perimeter. Station an adult or two in the middle of the course to help kids negotiate obstacles as needed. Another adult at the start is helpful to meter out the kid riders so only a couple are on the course at any one time. Other than that… be creative and have fun!