What is Safe Routes To Schools?

Safe Routes to School is an initiative that works to make it safe, convenient, and fun for children to walk and bicycle to and from schools. The goal is to get more children walking and bicycling to school, improve kids’ safety, and increase health and physical activity. Safe Routes to School improves sidewalks and street crossings and creates safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from school. The CDC has recognized Safe Routes to School as one of a handful of programs that are cost-effective and show significant population health impacts within five years.

Kids today have become less active, less independent, and less healthy. In 1969, nearly 50 percent of all children in the United States (and nearly 90 percent of those within a mile of school) walked or bicycled to school. Today, that number has dropped to fewer than 15 percent. During the morning commute, driving to school represents 10-14 percent of traffic on the road. Less kids walking equals more cars which leads to even fewer kids walking and on and on.

Studies show that Safe Routes to School programs are effective at increasing rates of bicycling and walking to school and decreasing injuries. At the local level, Safe Routes to School practitioners run education and encouragement programs and push for strong municipal and district policies to support safe walking and bicycling.  The most successful Safe Routes to School programs incorporate the Six E’s: evaluation, education, encouragement, engineering, enforcement, and equity.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has two main types of Safe Routes to School programs: Construction and non-infrastructure grants and technical assistance. The AmeriCorps Service Member and the Safe Routes to School Coordinator positions at Douglas ESD are funded by a non-infrastructure grant. This allows the team to bring programming to schools that focus on five of the six E’s – all except engineering. Without the other five, engineering, or infrastructure, doesn’t work. Building sidewalks does not teach kids how to use them.

All of the programming can be done by P.E. teachers, classroom teachers, office managers, community members, and anyone who wants to see kids get to school safely and be as active as possible. The Douglas ESD Safe Routes team is working on compiling all of the programs into one easy-to-read and easy-to-access handbook so that any program you want at your school is easy to start. From Walking School Buses to Pedestrian Safety Education and Bike Rodeos to Walk and Bike to School Day, we will equip you to start these programs in your schools.

As of March 2020, the SRTS team in Douglas County helps with Bicycle Safety Education, Pedestrian Safety Education, Bike Rodeos, Walking School Buses, and Walk and Roll to School Days.

At the regional and state level, Safe Routes to School practitioners work to find new funding and ensure proper spending of existing funding for Safe Routes to School.  And at the federal level, the Safe Routes Partnership and its allies maintain a steady voice for policy and funding support and provide a source of expert help, ideas, and resources for leaders at all levels.

How can I help?

Thank you for getting involved in Safe Routes to School! There are so many ways for you to help encourage safe walking and biking in your community in a volunteer capacity. Listed below are all of the volunteer roles created by the Safe Routes to School team. Once you have chosen the roles that fit your interests and abilities, call the school you are interested in helping or the Safe Routes to School in Douglas County team for more information about next steps. Each of these roles have some room to flex. If you are interested, but aren’t sure, please call anyway.

General roles for organizers to use

Bicycle Safety Education teacher/coach

The Bicycle Safety Education teacher/coach knows the bicycle safety education curriculum from beginning to end. The teacher/coach will stick with the same class or whole school for the 3-5 weeks. The teacher/coach will determine the activities for the day, make sure there are enough bikes for each student lined up before class, and make sure they are put away at the end of the day (or hand the key off to the next teacher/coach). The ideal volunteer in this position would have flexibility with their schedule to accommodate class times (or is the PE teacher), a basic understanding of biking on the street, a confident ability to ride on the street, a basic understanding of bicycle mechanics and maintenance, a teacher attitude with young students who have maybe never ridden a bike before.

Bicycle Safety Education aid

Like the teacher/coach, the Bicycle Safety Education aid will have flexibility with their schedule to accommodate class times, a basic understanding of biking on the street and a teacher attitude with young students who have maybe never ridden a bike before. The aid should respect the PE teacher and the bike teacher/coach and have patience and encouragement for new riders. The aid should help get bikes out before class and help put them away as needed. A basic understanding of bicycle mechanics and maintenance, a confident ability to ride on the street and knowledge of the curriculum are bonuses, but not necessary to help in the classroom. This position is more accessible to people who can only volunteer once or twice at a school, but want to be involved.

Community Ride Monitor

The community ride monitor is any adult who chooses to ride with a class for their community ride at the end of the Bicycle Safety Education program or any bike rides. The community ride monitor is a confident bike rider on the streets. Responsibilities include keeping students together and reminding them of the rules of the road and doing emergency maintenance if a bike needs it. This position is accessible for people who have a less flexible schedule during the day.

Bike mechanic (bike rodeos and parent nights and trailer TLC days)

The bike mechanics can help out with intense bike repairs or simple fixes. Mechanics make the difference in helping kids get their own bikes back into working condition and keeping the bike fleets operational. In just three months, we had over 400 students use just 36 bikes almost every school day. By the end, the bikes needed some love. The job of fixing up the bikes and getting them to the best shape they could be in required a few hours in an afternoon with a handful of experienced mechanics. This position can be the least student-facing position. We have had help from high school students who just like bikes and want to work with gears and retired seniors who love the bike community and want to encourage more people to bike.

Pedestrian Safety Education teacher/coach

The Pedestrian Safety Education teacher/coach knows the pedestrian safety education curriculum (LINK) from beginning to end. The teacher/coach will stick with the same class or the whole school for the 2-5 days it takes to teach the program, whether those days are back-to-back or scheduled another way as the school or teachers need. The teacher/coach is able to take the students on a short field trip to practice the skills learned in class. Each class requires no more than 10 minutes of setup and should last no more than 45 minutes for two days or 1.5 hours for one day.

Pedestrian Safety Education aid

The Pedestrian Safety Education aid helps the coach/teacher in the classroom and manage students on the walk. The aid will help reinforce the lesson and make sure students practicing crosswalk safety are safe before they cross. Pedestrian Education should take no more than two days (consecutive or split), so the volunteer is more likely to be able to come to both sessions for each class.

Walking School Bus driver

The Walking School Bus driver will meet at the starting point for the bus and walk with the students who join to the endpoint. Drivers will get a background check from the school/district before walking with the students. They will help take attendance and ensure each student is as safe as possible – including monitoring behavior, bikes and cars passing, and making sure school policy is being followed. Ideally, the driver would be committed to a walking bus for the whole year and would find substitutes when necessary.

Crossing guard

Schools that utilize crossing guards need them every day, before and after school. If enough people volunteer, that could be as little as once a week or even once a month. Crossing guards stand outside and help students cross the street at intersections with a light, a stop sign, a crosswalk, or an unmarked crossing point. Crossing guards will follow school policy for student safety and city, county, and state laws for traffic safety. Typically, crossing guards monitor the crossing point 30 minutes before or after school plus 10 minutes right after school starts or right before it ends to catch stragglers.

Some schools may ask a crossing guard to help direct parents toward the pickup/drop-off area. That is up to each volunteer whether they are comfortable with that addition.

Walk and Bike to school day greeter

The role is as simple as the title. On Walk and Bike to School days (generally the first Wednesdays in October and May), greeters will welcome students as they arrive at school. Volunteers should arrive about 30 minutes before school starts and follow the school’s directions for the event.

If you are interested in helping at a specific school, please check with the administration or booster club you are interested in helping about specific needs. If you are looking to fill a specific need, but don’t know where you want to help, please contact the Douglas County Safe Routes to School team.

How do I start it in my school?

Hallelujah! If you are reading this, there is a high chance you are at the very beginning of your Safe Routes to School journey! Whether you are a principal, board member, teacher, parent, instructional assistant, neighbor, or a student, you are awesome and I am so excited you are taking this first step! The intro to this collection of notes, tips, and resources tells you more about why walking and biking is so important to the health and well-being of students and how even walking for just a few extra minutes in the morning can make such a difference in social, emotional, and educational interactions.

There are hundreds if not thousands of resources out in the universe for you to take and apply to your school. We did our best here to collect as many of the resources we found valuable here and tried to highlight our favorites. The beauty of the internet is it’s always changing, that also means some of the links could be bad by the time you get to them. If that’s the case, please let us know at saferoutes@douglas.k12.or.us

Walking School Bus 

A walking school bus is a group of adults walking a predetermined route to school and collecting students along the way, the way a bus would. The adults are the “bus.” 

Five steps to launching a Walking School Bus  

I am writing this in January of 2020. In a year’s time, the Blue Zones Project and Douglas ESD have started four walking school buses and have dreamed up a dozen more in Douglas County. We have also done bus-to-walk programs for rural schools and students who live outside of the 1-mile walking radius. I’ll put that on the last page of this section as well as in the Walk and Bike to School Day and the Other sections of this handbook. I’ll throw some statistics about students walking to school at the bottom and how physical activity transforms their education, but I won’t bore you with that here. You are clearly reading this because you want to start this program at your school!  

Yes, I know, it might sound like a funny name, but when I explain it, you just might see that it is the only name that makes sense for this program. Walking school buses. Instead of getting picked up and riding to school with a group of kids, students participating in the walking school bus get “picked up” by a group of students and volunteer adults to walk to school together. They have a set meeting time and take a predetermined route just like a school bus, but get some activity included in their mornings!  

This program can be launched by parents, community members, or school staff. I tried to write this in a generic enough perspective that you can see yourself doing this, no matter what your role is.  

If you are launching after school registration:  

First, find out where kids could feasibly walk from. I would draw a line on Google Earth from the school to about .75 miles away as the child walks. Keep in mind that you could have kindergarteners and first grade students on your route and they could be easily discouraged by a mile-long walk in the morning when it’s chilly outside. Make a list of every street that would feed into your route.  

Second, take your list of feeder streets to the school office administrator. Let them know you would like to contact parents about joining the walking school bus route. If they pushback on giving out parent phone numbers, take their consideration seriously – you don’t know all of the parents or every detail of the school’s history with every parent. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Offer to take stripped down data – just phone numbers and intersections, or ask if they would be willing and able to make the phone calls for you. Try not to put the responsibility of engaging in the hands of the parents. Don’t offer to send your contact information home and hope that parents who are interested will call you.  

Most of the schools in the area use One Call. There is an option to make a subgroup of contacts so they add each parent on the route to the group and send out a one call. It should take 15 minutes or less to set up a subgroup, record a message, and send it. Then that group can be contacted again later.  

Third, recruit your volunteers! This is more of a 2B or 4A step and kind of just happens the whole time. If your school is near a business, ask HR if they would support getting their employees moving and engaging with the community for 30 minutes once a week. It builds a great reputation for a business with local families and physical activity has the same benefits for adults as students. Business owners who can spare employees for 30 minutes a week will have better employees who are invested in the neighborhood around their work. It’s a win-win-win. When you reach out to parents, ask if they want to walk with you. Best practice is to have at least two adults walking with the kids. Three is better and you can’t go wrong with four or more. The more people you have, the easier it is on everyone if someone has to miss a week here or there. Make sure they all have a background check with the school district. You can also recruit at PTA/PTO/Booster Club meetings or family nights. Most of the schools we’ve worked with require at least one staff member walk with each school bus. Giving up 30 minutes of staff time is not easy. Giving up two for one walking school bus is a very big ask. Make it as easy as you can and find ways to ask for just one.  

Fourth, send out flyers of some sort to every child on the route. They don’t have to be big and fancy, they just have to have contact information for you or whoever will be responsible for the route, the starting point, time and date, and a brief description of what a walking school bus is. Try to send it out a week beforehand – not too much longer than a week, but not the day before.  

Fifth, start walking!  

If you are launching for the first day of school:  

First, get the above step one done and get three underway before school registration. Take your list of feeder streets to the school administration. While I am writing this, we have only dreamed up this idea. It will take a lot more work upfront, but you will have kids in the zone for walking to school right out of the gate!  

Second, talk to the school administration about your idea. Get their approval and any requirements or help they may have. Some schools are able to use staff time to walk with students. Reach out to the Safe Routes team at Douglas ESD or talk to other schools about how they make that work. It varies by school and could change by the time you are reading this. The office staff may even know offhand if you might have more students walk with you if you adjusted your route by a right or left turn.  

Third, set up a table at registration/meet the teacher and talk to every parent you can about why walking and biking to school is so beneficial. This is the biggest time commitment of any of the steps, but the face-to-face interaction is so much more impactful than a flyer. Have a sign-up sheet for parents who want their students to walk with an extra column for them to indicate their interest in walking too. Bonus points if you have maps for parents to see how accessible walking is for their student(s) If you want to be super ambitious, have a computer or two set up with the parent survey nearby. I’ll include this in the Other section as well.  

Fourth, start walking! Yes, this version requires less steps, but more time commitment in smaller chunks.