Even though the Bike Fed has been running a very successful Safe Routes to School program in Milwaukee for more than 10 years, we are constantly evaluating what we do and working to become more efficient and effective. Every year between October and April, we teach thousands of kids at more than 30 schools how to bike and walk safely and legally in urban traffic, how to read maps and discover the joy of exploring their city under their own power.
For some of the kids, our class is the first time they see lake Michigan, ride a bike on trail, or even use a bike for anything other than popping wheelies or joy riding. For a few, it is the first time they learn to ride a bike. While the primary goal is for the kids leave our program understanding the rules of the road and the basics of bicycling, for many, the bonus is they gain a sense of personal responsibility and freedom that is inherent when kids learn to get around on their own.
This year we thought that if we let the students take more ownership in the program, it might give them an even greater understanding of the freedom that a bike can offer. We thought that if the kids could demonstrate they are responsible enough to ride safely, their parents might allow more kids the freedom to ride to school.
Of course, parents and teachers are always busy, so our Safe Routes to School program is designed to rely as much as possible on Bike Fed staff rather than the classroom teacher. In part, it is that “just add kids” quality and our experienced Bike Walk Instructors that have made our Safe Routes program so successful and popular. Even though it works very well, we felt that it could be improved if we were able to give the kids more ownership in their learning, riding and walking to school.
To that end, we worked with Ms Stefanie Klopp’s 4th through 6th grade upper elementary students at Fernwood Montessori School because they had already taken our two-week safety 101 course. So the class was given the responsibility of promoting the first ever National Bike to School day on May 9th, getting fellow students to sign the bike safety pledge, and encouraging schoolmates to bike and walk to school using a WisDOT incentive program with punch cards, plastic colored feet charms that go on key rings and prizes donated by South Shore Cyclery.
When the Bike Fed began our work with Fernwood back in the Fall of 2011, there were only about 4 or 5 kids who would bike on nice weather days. This new student-led program proved so successful that the number rose to a consistent 30 students and staff biking almost daily! Among the 30 were two 2nd graders who, with their parents, biked almost a mile to school everyday! It really made me proud to see the kids take charge and ownership of promoting biking and walking. I look forward to working with them again in the fall and seeing if we can’t keep growing the numbers!
A huge thanks to Steve and the Crew at South Shore Cyclery for providing the prizes for the raffle! As well as Mr, Sanchez, the school principal, for being supportive from the start!
If you are interested in promoting walking and biking at your child’s school, would like to schedule a bike safety course or a summer bike camp, please contact me, Jake Newborn, by phone or email: 414-431-1798 x11 Jake.Newborn@wisconsinbikefed.org