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!

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.

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!

Wedgwood/Bryant Combined Doughnut Meet-up+Ride

Doughnuts from Top Pot for bike to school riders

Meet up with kid and parent riders from NE sister elementary schools Bryant and Wedgwood. Combined meet-ups are planned during the month of May.

Meet at Top Pot Doughnuts at 8:00 for a doughnut (and coffee for parents) before an in-street ride/parade to the respective schools.

NOTE: This shouldn’t need to be said, but just in case: All children should be comfortable riding in a crowd of other kids, (wobble -free steering and solid braking ability required!), and be accompanied by a parent or guardian for the doughnut event AND ride. Volunteers will help keep the crowd together and assist at crossings, but Parents are responsible for judging the ability of their children and are ultimately responsible for their child’s safe arrival at school. Participation in the event should be fun time, but is solely at your own risk.