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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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!

Eckstein Bikes!

Eckstein Bikes! formed earlier this school year to encourage and support Eckstein students to bike to school. Several parents began by “randomly” showing up at school with treats to reward bikers on the occasional Friday. This created a little word of mouth that  good things happen to those who bike.

We also successfully applied for a Safe Routes to School grant, with some support from within the school from a fantastic science teacher who had run a Safe Routes grant a couple of years ago. Eckstein Bikes! met with the school administration and PTSA early on, and found them supportive as well.

With some energy and enthusiasm as well as experience from our efforts at other schools, we were up and running in very little time!

An early focus of the program has included several “Biker Donut Days” — morning meet-ups at the Eckstein bike cage parking area to reward kids who biked to school that day. Despite being held throughout the late fall and winter, each donut day has seen more kids on bikes as word has gotten around and we have increased our advertising to the school community. Last Donut Day we had 28 kids on bikes — a new record. Given the size of Eckstein though, there is plenty of room to grow.

Early efforts have also included:

  • Planning for renovations to the bike cage to improve its security and make it a more welcoming space for prospective and current bike commuters.
  • Coordination with the school and with SDOT on safety improvements around the school for our kid bikers as well as Eckstein’s kids who walk to school.
  • Getting the word out via Facebook, Twitter, and good old-fashioned signs and school notices.

The Donut Days have also provided a great opportunity to dole out some bike advice and some needed gear to the kid commuters. So far we’ve handed out over a dozen blinkie lights — front and rear — as well as one helmet. The Bike Wizard has also swung by a couple of times and delivered seat bags to kids that needed them.

Bike to School Month this May will be our next big push, but over the coming year, we also hope to focus on more incentives, safety and bike repair education for our bike commuters, possible group rides, and some other ideas as well. We also would love to recruit some parents to run a parallel walk to school program.

The Eckstein Bikes! team looks forward to continuing to grow safe and sustainable kid commuting at Eckstein.

Bike Repair for Middle Schoolers at Eckstein!

Keeping your bike in shape is easy, once you learn a few basics. Luckily, the Eckstein community can participate in a 7-week, afterschool bike repair class at Eckstein Community Learning Center. http://ecksteineagles.org/clc/ for details.

Taught by folks from Bike Works and students will fix up bikes that are then donated to kids that need them.

Sign on up and keep your bike running smooth and trouble free.!