Getting Started

“Wow, this kid-powered commuting thing sounds fun and I’d love to get something going at our school. But how do I start?”

Recently, a lot of folks have been asking about how to start a walking or biking program at their school. Literally, what is the first step?

Starting a new program in a school that doesn’t have a walk/bike culture can seem a little daunting. Even more so if you’re new to the school, say a kindergarten or 6th grade parent in your first year there.

In one sense, there’s no simple answer. There are as many ways to start a program as there are parents and staff who are interested in doing so. But in another sense, it’s very simple: just start!

Really there’s no wrong approach, and any steps you take to begin walking or biking yourself, or to promote kid-powered commuting to other families, can work.

Walking as a group is easy and fun!

A few ideas that have worked for others:

Start small. Beginning a program with a big spashy event is fine, but it’s also perfectly okay to begin by getting a few friends and neighbors together and beginning to walk or bike. It doesn’t need to be formal, advertised, or anything else unless you want to. Are you a walking school bus? A bike train? Maybe… or it’s fine if you are just some friends walking or riding to school together.

Talk it up. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful. Drop off and pickup times at elementary schools are great opportunities to talk with other parents about what you have in mind, meet other folks with similar interests in kid-powered commuting, and to begin to grow a community of walkers and bikers at your school.

Walk the talk. Or bike the talk if that suits you better! Just showing up day after day with kids who have gotten to school under their own power is a fun and infectious way to drum up interest.

Make it fun. Honestly it’s hard not to. Kids and parents seem to find walking or biking more fun than other commuting modes. Especially once you link up with other friends and neighbors and begin to build some community around it. Sometimes parents just need a little encouragement to give it a try. As you begin to grow a program, incorporating some treats or trinkets or stickers into the mix is helpful too.

Connect with other parents. Ultimately it’s easier to create and grow a program with a team. It’s a lot more fun too. Connect through word-of-mouth. Or advertise in the school newsletter. Host an info table at curriculum night or another school event. Once you get a team going, you’ll be unstoppable.

Partner with a teacher. If you can find a teacher or two who are genuinely interested in this, it is incredibly helpful. There’s nothing quite as inspiring for kids as a teacher who parks their bike in the corner of the classroom each day and encourages students to give it a try. At some schools, this is a natural as there might be a teacher or two who are already excited about getting kids walking or biking, and they just need some parents to work with. At other schools you’ll need to do more work to find a teacher or two to recruit as partners. Ask around. Talk to parents and teachers and staff to find good candidates. Often the PE teacher is a good bet: talk to her and get her excited about walking and biking.

Paper the neighborhood.
By foot or bike of course!

Get the administration and PTSA on board.You don’t have to; in fact a lot can be accomplished without any formal school involvement. But ultimately getting the principal or other key administrators to help promote the program is a powerful tool, and Seattle schools need more administrators stepping up to do this to re-shape our commute patterns. Same with the PTSA; you can work outside of that structure, but ultimately they can be helpful for advertising, fundraising, managing a grant, etc. This can be as easy as setting up a meeting with the principal (they work for you, don’t they?) or presenting at a PTSA board meeting.

Take it to the next level and plan an event. You don’t need to start with a month or year of walking or biking events, though that is a worthy longer term goal. It might be easiest to pick one day, assemble a team to help with planning and day-of activities, advertise in a few obvious places, and go for it! If it turns out to be a big hit, fantastic! If it turns out you get a handful of families to participate the first time, that’s awesome too as you can grow from there.

Good old fashioned posters work wonders. IWalk and other templates make it easy.

Keep at it. One event — small or large — can lead to another. And once you have a few families on board the creative juices will start to flow. With some persistence, you’ll grow a movement at your school before you know it.

Be patient. It’s okay if it takes a while to really get things going. And if you’re new to a school, part of the trick is getting to know the lay of the land — PTSA, administration, other parents and families. So take your time but be persistent. Regardless, it’ll be a fun ride! There’s nothing quite as rewarding as walking or biking with a bunch of kids getting there on their own power.

Good luck… It’s a great time to begin!

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Another awesome info sharing session

Last week’s walk.bike.schools meeting was awesome! It was great to hear ideas from Ballard and throughout Seattle to get more kids walking and biking.

We heard from Loyal Heights Elementary about their bike to school program, along with some of their ideas for the coming year. These include creating more targeted education on road skills for student bikers, a possible after school bike club, perhaps some group rides on the proposed Ballard Greenway, and a bike swap.

Feet First described how October’s IWalk works, with lots of specific examples of events, promotional materials, etc., that other schools have used. Did you know that October is International Walk to School Month, and Oct. 3 is International Walk to School Day? A great time to organize a walk  event, or just to walk to school yourself! (And not to worry, biking or really any kid-powered commuting counts.)

The IWalk concept is very flexible: it’s an umbrella that supports walk-to-school organizers in putting on events for a day, all month, or anything in between.

We also heard an inspiring story from Dearborn Park Elementary, where teachers and even the principal have led walking school buses. Very cool!

The meeting also included a roundtable discussion where folks could share what they are working on and  ideas for collaboration. Not surprisingly, lots of great ideas emerged:

  • A possible multi-school bike festival, perhaps with a bike swap, fun events Fiets of Parenthood style, and a sign-up table for various schools’ bike to school programs.
  • Partnering with the Undriver Licensing project, which could encourage middle or high school students to further commit to walking and biking by getting their Undriver License!
  • Tieing into the Washington High School Cycling League. Ballard High is a member, and a similar league may be launched at the MS level
  • Connecting with the Seattle Public Library, especially the neighborhood branches

Folks were clear they want to continue to share information and build a citywide coalition of school programs. To that end we agreed to get together again in early November to debrief on October events, and to collaborate between now and then through this blog and the walk.bike.schools google group.
There was particular interest in getting more information and examples for walking school buses and bike trains, so look for more info here soon.

Our meeting got some nice press coverage as well; check it out!

Thanks to all who could join us, and to Loyal Heights for hosting!

Let’s load up the bike racks…
and wear out some sneakers too!

Plan Your Walk or Bike to School Event

There’s no time like the present to begin hatching a plan for a walk or bike to school event this Fall. The event could be large or small, simple or complex, and for one day or an entire month.

September and October are such great months for kid-powered commuting, but they’re also busy times with curriculum nights, introductory coffees with the principal, ice cream socials to meet other parents, and just a huge range of back-to-school activities. So start planning now to instill walking and biking as part of the back-to-school tradition at your school.

To a large extent, organizing a campaign to get more kids walking and biking to your school comes down to planning a series of events throughout the year. Each event can build on the last, generating enthusiasm among both the kids and their parents. Starting in the Fall, and then providing some continuity from one event to the next is helpful to create and sustain momentum for an entire school year of kid-powered commuting.

Planning a successful event involves thinking ahead to what you want to accomplish, and how best to pull it off. Key elements include:

Determining the basic scope of the event. Will it be a bike rodeo? Walking school bus? Treats before school for kids who walk or bike? Coming up with a general vision and a creative name to match is a great start. Fixing on a date well in advance is critical too, so you can enlist volunteers and get the word out.

Putting together a team. The best events are pulled off by a group of folks with a common goal. You might want to have a smaller core team that helps with the planning, and then a larger cadre of volunteers to help with the event itself. Most team members will likely be from your school community (parents and staff), though some schools have reached out and involved others in the broader community, notably older students who might be alumni who are excited to help out at their old school, or perhaps middle or high school students who are interested in community service.

Determining what materials you need. Treats? Prizes? Outreach materials and signs? Think ahead, and figure out what it will cost and where to get the funding.

Coming up with an outreach and advertising strategy. How will you get the word out? For school events, we’ve often found that using a variety of approaches works really well. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! What if you advertise in the school weekly, but it turns out most folks don’t read it? Good old fashioned enthusiastic word of mouth is particularly effective, so talk it up! It also can help a lot to get the school administration on board, maybe even enlist the principal as a spokesperson. Who can resist the principal’s call to the entire school to walk to school in October?

Lay out the precise details for the event itself. What activities will occur? When and where? Who needs to be involved in each one? Figure out whether you need multiple stations and volunteers, whether everything will happen at once, or if there is a sequence to the event.

Decide if you want to track participation and how. Punchcards? Parents counting bikes or walkers at key locations? Sign-in sheets?

Come up with a plan to celebrate your success!

Hope this helps with your planning, and huge thanks go to Feet First for this basic framework of event planning (though I’ve embellished a bit!). The key is to start your planning early.

Let’s share some more ideas for Fall walk and bike events at this week’s plannng meeting. And if you have ideas to share, let us know and we can expand this post to include them.

Until then, good luck!!

2012-13 Kickoff Planning Meeting

Walk.bike.schools is starting early this year to plan for another great school year of walking and biking. The weather has been perfect for walking and biking, and next month is International Walk Month. So what better time than now to hatch a plan at your school to support kids and families in getting to school under their own power!

Come to next Tuesday’s walk.bike.schools planning meeting to share tips and techniques to get more Seattle kids walking and biking!

Meeting details are:

Tuesday, Sept 18
6:30 to 8:00 p.m
Loyal Heights Elementary School in Ballard
2511 NW 80th St.

Folks can enter the school at the entrance nearest 80th and 26th Ave NW (the northwest corner of the school). We’ll meet in the cafeteria, and will have someone stationed at the entrance to direct you to the cafeteria.

For those who choose to bike to the meeting, one of the gates will be open (on the west side of the school grounds) to provide access to the school’s bike racks, which are near the playground.

The agenda is still being firmed up, but we will be hearing a bit about IWalk and walk to school programs in general. As well as some inspiring stories from schools around our city who are working to get more kids walking and biking. The goal of the meeting is to share tangible ideas that can be put into practice at our schools. If you have specific ideas or want to participate and share some info about what you’re doing at your school, let me know!

As always, these meetings are intended for any and all parents, staff, and anyone else with an interest in promoting walking and biking to Seattle schools. Spread the word to other folks you know who share this interest.

Thanks in advance to Loyal Heights for hosting. We’re looking forward to getting together in the heart of Ballard, where there is a huge amount of energy around walk and bike programs.

Let’s continue to grow this movement of kid-powered commuting!

Hope to see you next Tuesday!!

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Kicking Off Another School Year

Happy back to school week!

For most of our Seattle schools, this is the first week back in action. Some others got a head start and began the 2012-13 school year last week. Here in NE Seattle, high school students started Tuesday, but for middle and elementary school kids, today is “opening day!”

It’s a great time to begin encouraging walking and biking to school. The weather is great, the long-range forecast looks excellent, and families and students are full of enthusiasm. October is International Walk to School Month and an opportunity to participate in IWalk and other walk to school programs. These first months of the school year are an excellent time for biking as well, so get creative and encourage families to do either.

Walk.bike.schools is planning a Fall kickoff meeting, so look here for details in the near future. We are currently thinking of meeting later this month to compare notes, share tips, and build on each others’ creative energy for getting Seattle’s kids walking and biking. As always, anyone interested in getting Seattle kids walking and biking is welcome to come and participate.

In the meantime, if you’re kicking off a walk or bike program at your school and have some ideas to share, let us know.

Happy back to school week!!

A Great Kickoff Meeting for Walk.Bike.Schools!

First Walk.Bike.Schools Meeting

Frankly, we’re feeling pretty jazzed here at Walk.Bike.Schools! headquarters. When we started planning this “project,” we weren’t sure if we’d have 5, 10, or 20 of you who’d make the time to come a meeting. In fact, we had 35 or so parents, plus another 5 or so folks otherwise connected with the walk-and-bike-to-school movement in at least 14 schools.  All on a record-busy night for bike and ped meetings. Wow!

We experienced inspirational sharing of insights and ideas from participants. Some real winners included:

  • Make it fun for kids and they can motivate their parents!
  • Let’s develop Buddy Schools to match up existing programs to mentor new programs
  • Target preschools for early bike and walk involvement. That way kids and parents will already be converts when they hit elementary school
  • and many more!

Read more of this post

Seattle School Parents: Citywide Walk & Bike Planning Meeting April 12

Clogged Racks Hey parents! Do you dream of full bike racks on the playground and lots of helmet clad kids riding around the school yard? Or sidewalks filled with happy kids and parents walking to school? Are you interested in starting a walk and bike to school program at your kid’s school but don’t know where to start?

Let’s get together and share ideas about walking and biking to school!

Mark your calendars for the city-wide walk and bike to school meeting:

7:00 – 8:30 PM, April 12th in the Bryant Elementary library (3311 NE 60th Street) 

In an effort to reverse the worrisome  Decline of Walking and Biking to School in the US, a group of NE Seattle parents started walk and bike to school programs at Bryant elementary, Laurelhurst elementary and Eckstein middle school. Over the past 5 years, these programs have experienced considerable success and growth with the percentage of walkers and bikers increasing at Bryant and Laurelhurst. For example, According to family surveys SDOT conducted over a  5-year period (from 2007 – 2011),  Bryant had the highest percentage of kids biking to school (8% in 2011). Bryant also increased the percentage of kids walking and biking to school (from 11% in 2007 to 33% in 2011)

Even with this success, we still have a long way to go in order to get back to 1969 percentages.

From Safe Routes to School:

  • In 1969, 48 % of children 5 to 14 years of age walked or bicycled to school
  • In 2009, 13 % of children 5 to 14 years of age walked or bicycled to school
  • In 1969, 41 % of children in grades K–8 lived within one mile of school
    • 88 % of these children walked or bicycled to school
  • In 2009, 31 %of children in grades K–8 lived within one mile of school
    • 38 % of these children walked or bicycled to school

Let’s work together and get the percentage of children who walk and bike to school in Seattle back to 88%!

Bike to School Month Spoke Card

Join us on April 12th and get information on how to get a program started at your kid’s school. Meet other parents who also want to increase walking and biking to school.

Meeting goals:

  • Share information about walking and biking programs in schools
  • Get information about how to start a program at your school
  • Meet other parents who share the same goals
  • Build a network for information sharing throughout Seattle (blog, twitter, Facebook and Google Groups)

We hope to see you there!