A Kid-powered Holiday Commute — UPDATED

The results are in: Jingle bells, colored lights, yummy treats, and happy kids… we had two fantastic and fun bike to school events just before the holidays.

Serving up treats by headlamp; middle school starts early!

Serving up treats by headlamp; middle school starts early!

This was the first-ever holiday bike celebration at Eckstein, and parent organizers decorated the bike cage the night before, so that we were ready to go when the middle school bikers began to arrive at 7:15 a.m. The holiday bike to school morning was scheduled for the day before winter break, which happened to coincide with the winter solstice this year. It was the darkest morning all school year, and sure enough the early bird kids got there before twilight. Parent volunteers served donuts and cider by headlamp!

In Seattle, middle schoolers end up biking in the dark this time of year, so getting them lit up is essential. We’ve been doling out bike lights at the last few events, and were happy to see that all of the arriving kids had front and rear lights for their bikes. One or two kids needed upgrades, and we were happy to provide them.

For Bryant, this was the second annual holiday bike ramble. Once again, we met at Top Pot Doughnuts for festivities before riding and walking to school as a group. Several families came with their bikes already decorated — including an extracycle with a Charlie Brown tree on the snapdeck! — and we had plenty of decorations available so others could join in the fun.

It’s always great when the school administration participates in these events, and in this case, Bryant’s principal joined us for the festivities. The Seattle Police Department was also on hand to help control the route, with two cruisers and three bike cops who said that once again helping kids get to school on their own power was a lot more fun than their other police work!

Enjoying treats and festivities before the ride to school.

Enjoying treats and festivities before the ride to school.

New for this year, we added some holiday music to the mix at both schools. An iphone with a Rhapsody playlist and one small powered speaker was enough to provide just a little background music. Along with lights, tinsel, and other decorations, the music really added to the holiday mood.

For me, one big highlight of the morning was chatting at length with a middle schooler who rides his bike to school every day. He was the first one to show up at Eckstein, and we had some time to talk a bit before the rest of the Eckstein bikers began to arrive.

This 7th grade biker began riding to school at Wedgwood Elementary in 5th grade, and he never missed a beat when he entered Eckstein. As a sixth grader last year, he was part of our inaugural year of the Eckstein Bikes! program. He reported that riding to school is a blast, and sheepishly mentioned that he didn’t even learn to ride a bike until he was 10 years old. Now he rides every day. Clearly he is a fast learner!

Can’t wait to do it again next year! Happy New Year!

Group ride to Bryant

Group ride to Bryant

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Original Post

What better way to celebrate the holidays than with a community bike or walk to school event? And what better way to demonstrate that walking or biking in the Seattle winter is a viable and even fun way to get to school?

Are you planning an event at your school? A couple of schools are, with rumors of colored lights, holiday outfits, bike decorating, treats, jingle bells, and maybe even a little music.

At Bryant we’ve done this before, and it was a huge hit last time. Okay, admittedly there was a little less turnout than on a beautiful spring day, but we learned that a surprising number of families will show up to bike or walk in the rain, especially if you throw in some holiday festivities.

There is something about gathering with the community to celebrate the holidays and the fun of kid-powered transportation. There is also the great feeling of accomplishment when kids get to school under their own power on a truly wet and chilly Seattle December morning. And who knows, maybe this will be the year that it’s dry and sunny!

One of the goals at Bryant last year was to expand the time of year when families walk or bike, and to encourage that with at least an occasional event in the “off-season.” It’s pretty well-established to host bike events in May and walk events in October, but ultimately we want families to opt for active transportation year-round!

A bonus this year is that the Friday before Seattle Public Schools’ holiday break happens to be the winter solstice, yet another reason to celebrate by getting a group together to walk or bike.

Events are planned at Eckstein and Bryant. We’ll let you know how it goes. And if you have something planned at your school too, feel free to share some ideas.

Happy Holidays!

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A Few October Highlights

Wow, I can’t believe November is nearly over and we’re already into the holiday season. We’ve been meaning to recap a few of the highlights from this past October, when many Seattle schools focused their efforts on IWalk and other walk to school programs.

While the recap is a little tardy, the events themselves were timely, and amounted to a hugely successful walk to school month at a number of local schools. The stories below just scratch the surface, as many schools hosted events. But hopefully these examples can provide some ideas for other schools to consider.

Here are a few highlights:

At West Woodland Elementary, an emphasis on “walking and wheeling” during October involved kids in all forms of sustainable commuting. Over the course of the month, 81% of West Woodland kids walked or wheeled to school at least once, up significantly from last year’s 62%.

According to organizers, this might have been due to the good weather early on, or it might have been due to the West Woodland fairies who surprised the kids with rewards. (Yes, it turns out that bike and walking fairies are beginning to multiply around the city… Bryant and Laurelhurst and now West Woodland too!)

A number of West Woodland parents donned fairy wings, sequined skirts, or other fun accessories and took turns “catching” kids walking or biking to and from school, rewarding them with stickers and Hershey’s kisses for their efforts. There was quite a buzz around school about the fairies and the parents had fun doing it, too.  Every walker received a small goody bag, and West Woodland held a bike blender smoothie party for the two classes with top participation. The top five individual walkers also received headlamps donated by Second Ascent.

Bagley walkers

At Bagley Elementary, the school’s “Let’s Move” program got up and running for the school year in October. Like West Woodland, this program involves both walking  and biking to school, including organized groups along several walking school bus routes. As Bagley works to promote active transportation choices, they also host school walks and runs for the kids on the Bagley track in the mornings as well. Bagley plans to run its Let’s Move program for the rest of the year.

Salmon Bay K-8 pulled together its first ever Walk to School day at the end of October this year. It was a huge success! The walk to school day involved five walking school buses and several of them had twenty students and 5-10 adults!  Several teachers & staff joined the buses as well, and Salmon Bay’s event even made the local news!

Salmon Bay had about 100 student walkers overall.  Organizers report that participation and encouragement by a new principal and assistant principal this year who are both dedicated to walking and biking to school helped tremendously. This is yet another reminder of how a supportive administration can really help these programs take off.

Bryant’s walking school buses were a huge success as well, with over 100 kids participating in one or more of the Friday morning buses. Bryant families gathered at four stations, each a few blocks from school, and from there walked to school en masse. One smaller group set up timed stops along about a one-mile route, ultimately joining up at the north station for the final walk to school. It was great fun!

On the final Friday, Bryant’s north walking bus added kid instruments (recorders, drums, even pots and pans) to enhance the parade. On that final Friday, the “Walking Wizard” paid a visit as well, to reward kids who walked.

And Laurelhurst had a fantastic month too, with a sequence of events that kicked off the month and provided support along the way, with a final wrap-up event as well. This all added up to huge participation, with the entire school joining a kick-off assembly and an “all-school walk” early in the month, and then nearly half of the students following through with sustainable commuting and tracking their trips over the course of the month.

Obviously we’re deeper into the rainy and dark season in Seattle now, but we’ve seen some sunny and dry periods like the first part of this week as well. Hopefully we’ll continue to see a few glimpses of sun over the course of the winter, along with a few opportunities to encourage families to break out their rain gear to walk or bike to school.

Hopefully these schools and others can build on the momentum of October and support families to explore getting to school under their own power over the course of the winter.

And for school organizers, the next few months are a perfect time to lay the groundwork for walk and bike to school programs for the coming spring!

Walk-to-school traffic jam!

It’s Walktober!

International Walk to School Month begins today! Spread the word at your school and let’s get Seattle kids walking.

Bagley Elementary had three walking school buses last year and are adding some more for 2012-13.

At West Woodland, they’ve had a big walking school bus going for years! They’ve established some great guidelines to make sure everyone is safe and accounted for, and has fun as well.

Even at bike-crazy Bryant Elementary, walking school buses are all the rage this fall! Bryant has established four stations — each a few blocks from school — and parents are hosting meet-ups every Friday, and then families are walking to school en masse.

At Dearborn Elementary, in past years they’ve even had the principal and teachers lead their walking school buses!

If you want more info or some examples from these schools, let us know and we’ll set you up!

The Seattle School District passed a new transportation policy last year that requires each elementary and K-8 principal to establish at least one walking school bus by the 2013-14 school year. Let’s hold them to it, but also show them how it’s done by getting out and walking this fall.

Walking school buses can be simple or complex. In the old days, we just walked to school, right? But often we picked up friends along the way because that made it more fun. In its essence a walking school bus is no more than that: just a fun and healthy way for a group to get to school together. It can have timed routes with multiple stops, or just be a simple meet-up location for several families to leave together. Or a “bus” can be informal, with friends and neighbors just electing to walk to school together.

It’s never too late to rally some friends to walk or bike, or even to organize a small event. Feet First has made some nice template posters available that can easily be adapted, and posted at your school.

Let’s get Seattle school kids walking now! What are you doing at your school to help build this kid-powered movement?

Even Bryant’s walking. Well, and biking too!

Bryant Walking School Buses

CALLING ALL BRYANT FAMILIES:

Bryant Elementary’s Walking School Buses start this coming Friday!

We’ll be gathering at four meet-up points (see map below):

30th Ave NE and NE 60th St

33rd Ave Ne and NE 55th St

32nd Ave NE and NE 62nd St

36th Ave NE and NE 60th St

The schedule is pretty simple:

8:50 am Gather at one of the 4 meeting points. Meet other Bryant parents and kids. Enjoy TREATS!

9:05 am Start walking (or biking, scootering, roller skating, etc.) to school along the routes outlined on the map.

9:15 am Arrive to Bryant in an awesome displayof kid-powered transport!

We’ll be doing walking school buses with treats and festivities each  Friday in October:

Oct. 5, 19, and 26

(no school on Oct.12)

Meet up at 8:50 a.m. at any of the red stars.

See the link below to download or print the Walking School Bus poster. Hope you can join us!

Bryant Elementary Walking School Bus Poster

Bike to School Day 2012, Bryant Elementary

Here’s some footage from Bryant’s 2012 Bike to School Day. We had a morning meet-up at Top Pot Doughnuts, and rode as a group to Bryant. About 180 bikers, including parents and kids. This year, we requested a police escort, so “Seattle’s finest” were on hand to help us navigate the challenging spots like arterial crossings. The kids loved getting the support from the SPD.

Creating a Walk/Bike Culture

This year, for the first time, biking to school is a prominent part of the Bryant Elementary yearbook! With a half-page spread, the Bike to Bryant program takes its place among the annual play, the Halloween Prowl, Science Fair, and other school traditions. Why not? Like these other activities, biking to school has become “just one of those things we do” at Bryant, every year and for some, every day. Giving it some recognition is part of creating a culture at school of promoting, celebrating, participating in, and “just doing it” when it comes to walking and biking to school. It’s a nice half page spread; maybe next year the other half can be for “Walking to Bryant!”

Bike to Bryant makes the school yearbook

To really reach a tipping point of families routinely choosing to walk or bike instead of drive to school, it will take a shift in the culture of our schools. A lot of emphasis to date has been on walk or bike to school “events” that promote walking or biking for a day, a week, or a month. These events are great — they create a lot of excitement, introduce families to different modes of transportation they may not have considered, and provide a lot of support for trying them out. They are also huge fun and create a real sense of community around walking and biking. But for many families,  after the event is over, it’s back to the usual modes of getting to and from school.

One goal of the Bike to Bryant program the last couple of years has been to build a biking and walking culture at Bryant to encourage families to create a new and more sustainable daily routine. We’ve been holding at least an occasional event year-round, to help families see that walking and biking can be a daily habitat all year here in Seattle. One especially fun event was a group ride to school on the day before winter break, with lots of folks and bikes dressed in holiday decorations. One parent commented to me that it was the first time she had ever ridden her bike in the rain! And that it wasn’t too bad at all!

We’ve also been working with the school administration to get their more active support for and participation in these programs. This includes having the principal’s office be a strong voice for our bike program to the school community. It helps for families to hear of the value of walking and biking not only from parent organizers, but also directly from the school’s administrative leaders. The principal has a bully pulpit; so why not put it to use! This past year, the administration has talked about the program in the weekly newsletter and the occasional “email blast” to the entire school. And the vice principal came out to direct traffic across NE 65th for one of our Top Pot Doughnut rides! (I’ll cover getting the administration on board in more detail in a future post.)

Another approach we’ve been using is to create more of a sense of permanence and continuity from year to year. We are finding ways to place references to walking and biking in high profile spaces, and to both celebrate and normalize these modes of transportation.

The winning class gets the Bike to Bryant award!

The yearbook page is an example of this, showcasing biking to school in a place where kids and families can’t miss it and where it becomes part of the culture and shared memory of our school. The permanent vinyl Bike to Bryant sign that now hangs outside near the bike racks is another (see previous post). A third example is our annual Bike to Bryant award, which goes to the class with the most bike trips during Bike to School Month. A little friendly competition is a good thing to generate excitement, and by having a physical award we can use from year to year, we’ve also been able to display it prominently in the front hall at school all year long.

Probably the most important part of creating a lasting school culture that supports walking and biking programs is to grow the group of parents who support and help to organize these programs.  Collaborating with a mix of parents with kids in multiple grades — including lower levels like K-3 — is essential to sustaining programs over time.

We know we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of things we can do to create a biking and walking culture. We’re always looking for more ideas of how to keep the excitement going, while also normalizing kid-powered commuting, and helping families incorporate it into their daily routine.

Now hanging prominently in the front hall at Bryant.

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!