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Biking & Walking
Brunswick Walk and Bike to School - How One Initiative Takes Off!
The magic of many Safe Routes to School programs is that they start with small moments of interaction between a few local champions and, over time, build into something bigger than anyone involved expected. Such is the case with Brunswick. In September 2007, Brunswick parent and local American Cancer Society staff member Cheryl Tucker approached Pat McCabe, the physical education teacher at Coffin Elementary School, waving an article from a local magazine that told a compelling story of the Maine Safe Routes to School program. McCabe said, “She asked why we couldn’t get more kids walking and biking to school here?” For her part, McCabe is known as a tireless advocate for the benefits of physical activity.
To get started, McCabe and Tucker contacted and met with Denise Delorie, the statewide Safe Routes to School Coordinator at the time. Together they brainstormed who they should be sure to involve in their Walk and Bike to School Initiative – one of them being Lynn D’Agostino, the physical education teacher at Jordan Acres Elementary who was organizing a Bike Safety Health Fair where, among other things, kids could get helmet fittings and learn safe bike handling skills. Another was Dave Brunette, the Director of Grounds and Transportation for the Brunswick Schools. “One of the first people I talked to was Dave in the bus garage,” McCabe says. “His willingness to embrace the effort and his knowledge of each bus schedule, different remote bus drop-off possibilities, and special situations for individual students were a tremendous help to us.”
McCabe goes on to say, “Once we knew we had Dave’s support we felt free to bring together the four elementary school principals (Coffin, Jordan Acres, Hawthorne, and Longfellow) and other community stakeholders to plan a Walk and Bike to School Day for all of Brunswick’s elementary schools.” They talked to various community members who were interested and decided to hold a Walk and Bike to School Day in the fall of 2008.
So they chose Friday, October 17th – to coordinate with the fall Bike Safety Fair organized again by D’Agostino. The day dawned clear and crisp, and approximately 1000students from the four elementary schools around town either walked or biked directly to school – or were dropped off by bus in a nearby neighborhood to walk that last ¼ to ½ mile to school. Principals headed out to greet students as they got closer – Principal Greg Scott of Longfellow School actually went out to greet students as they got off the bus at their remote drop-off on Emanuel Drive. McCabe reports, “Even though the distance to school was about 1/4 mile, we did not want the kids to get nervous being dropped off in a strange place. I put out small cones, for two of our schools, along the route for the kids to follow all the way to school. As I met the kids off the bus for the first time, I simply said to follow the cones to school. One little guy said, ‘Just like Hansel and Gretel!’ and he merrily went on his way.”
Volunteers came out in droves – both parents and school staff – to accompany the students. In the case of Hawthorne School (which closed at the end of the ’08-’09 school year), the entire staff went out to walk in with students. Some students with physical disabilities arrived at school and then walked and wheeled out to meet their fellow students as they neared each school campus. Local police helped direct traffic. And as part of the Bike Safety Health Fair, volunteers met students at the school bike racks, fitted their helmets, supplied new helmets to those needing them, and handed out fun bike safety stickers.
“We thought we would just do one day,” McCabe says. But then the Walk and Bike to School Initiative convened a post-event evaluation and discovered the group was energized to do more. One member reported that Principal Scott had shared he would like to see an event at least every other month. Another asked, “Now that the kids know the way – could this be a regular event for Coffin School as long as there is a crossing guard at the corner of Baribeau Drive…and the temperature is above 35?” Members found they were in strong agreement that the event had been highly successful, that it could actually be pulled off with fewer volunteers, and that they wanted to do it once a month instead of just once or twice a year.
“Can we set a date, preferably a Friday…and walk /bike to school again before Christmas?” asked D’Agostino. And sure enough, despite – or maybe in celebration of – the holiday bustle, each school held another Walk and Bike to School Day on December 5th. They were on a roll. With a short hiatus for the winter months, the Initiative went on to hold three more monthly Walk & Bike to School Days in the spring. The benefits have been real. Teachers have reported students are more alert and ready to go with the school day. “Each Walk and Bike to School Day I walk over from the Access Health office to help out with the kids,” says Amanda Hopkins, an Initiative member and part of the local Healthy Maine Partnerships staff. “The overflowing bike rack and rosy cheeks are real signs of health and wellbeing…and everyone seems more alive!”
“When one walk date [in the spring] was cancelled, my principal caught up with me later and was so bummed,” reports McCabe. “He kept on bugging me, ‘When are we going to reschedule? We have to reschedule…I love these days!’” Members of Brunswick’s Walk and Bike to School Initiative point out that they are working with a built environment that supports their efforts. The elementary schools in Brunswick serve the residential neighborhoods surrounding them – they aren’t located out beyond the village center like the new high school. There is a good sidewalk network near each school, the streets are generally narrower and traffic is calmer, and there are established crossing guards at intersections with larger roads.
“The parent groups at each school have also been essential,” says Pat McCabe. While the Initiative consists of parents, community members and school staff, parents have supported the work so well that each Walk and Bike to School Day requires little staff effort, she says. The Initiative has also worked to keep things simple – encouraging parents and neighbors to organize themselves into walking groups and removing the committee from having to micromanage that work. Hopkins points out, “Some parents come out to see their kids off and then monitor and cheer students on as they walk by; other parents are able to walk with kids the whole way to school.”
Posted on 8/20/2009 | Back
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