‘Green’ commute for bus-less school

Loma Verde wins Green Ways to School Award

By Tim Omarzu, Marinscope Newspapers
August 26, 2010

Loma Verde Principal Eileen Smith
Principal Eileen Smith bikes 26 miles round-trip from her home in San Rafael to Novato’s Loma Verde Elementary School. She’s standing in the new bicycle paddock built over the summer at the school that lost its school bus service last year due to budget cutbacks. (Tim Omarzu/Marinscope)

During the three years Eileen Smith has been principal of Loma Verde Elementary School, she’s ridden her bike to work, making the 26-mile round trip from her home in the Glenwood neighborhood of San Rafael.

“I don’t do it every day. I do it three to five days a week,” said Smith, who spends 70 minutes commuting to work and 80 minutes riding home (the additional time home is due to hills she has to climb.)

“It’s not the distance that’s hard,” said Smith; the tricky part was learning how to feel safe riding in traffic. An experienced bicyclist friend helped her with that.

Smith’s shining example of committed bike commuting may have inspired Loma Verde students to win the first annual Green Ways to School Award for highest achievement in 2009-10, with a $2,000 prize.

The honor comes from the Safe Routes to Schools program of the Transportation Authority of Marin, or TAM. It recently gave cash awards to nine Marin schools for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and by generating “green” trips to school through students walking, bicycling, taking the bus or participating in carpools.

Green Ways to School is a new campaign launched in January. Funded through a grant from the Marin Community Foundation’s Climate Change Initiative, the campaign consists of a new Web-based SchoolPool trip-matching program (The SchoolPool Marin program helps families find others in their neighborhood to carpool, walk, bike or take the bus together to and from school), and contests and promotions that encourage students and their parents to find Green Ways to School.

TAM says the program succeeded in increasing “green trips” to school countywide by 5 percent in the 2009-10 school year, reducing annual vehicle miles traveled by 635,000 miles and decreasing 270 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Participants in the new SchoolPool program increased green trips even more — by 16 percent — or the equivalent of decreasing the number of single-student-occupant vehicle trips by one trip per week.

School bus service was severely curtailed last year in Novato due to budget constraints. As a result, buses no longer serve Loma Verde.

The school’s Green Ways program emphasized carpooling, which increased by between 12 and 14 percent, as well as biking and walking to school.

The school also has a “walking school bus,” in which a gaggle of students walk with a parent at the front and rear of the procession for safety. A poster of an oak tree was affixed to each classroom’s door during the program, so classes could compete by seeing which one got the most acorn stickers awarded for participation.

“The kids were really enthusiastic,” said Jeanni Pardi, a Loma Verde parent volunteer who encouraged the school to participate.

Pardi also helped clear yellow starthistle on campus, because the invasive weed’s spines were puncturing the students’ bike tires. She was involved with the work crews that covered the starthistle with mulch.

And the Novato Unified School District this summer installed a fenced, paved closure at Loma Verde in which students can store their bikes during the day. The bikes will all be locked in there together, eliminating the need for individual bike locks.

“Not all kids can afford locks,” Smith said.

Loma Verde may use its $2,000 in prize money for such things as buying new safety vests for the parents who lead the walking school bus or to pay for a rainwater catchment to water the school garden, so it can expand.

Other winners

The first place Program Achievement Award of $1,000 went to Old Mill School in Mill Valley for increasing the highest percentage of green trips since it joined the Safe Routes to Schools program (in 2003). Old Mill’s school site council developed a “15 Minutes to School” campaign by proposing to open up steps and pathways near the school to enable its students to be able to walk to school in 15 minutes. Over the years successive team leaders have developed their own contests to encourage more students to walk to school. Since 2003, Old Mill School has increased green trips by 38 percent and increased walking and biking to school by 26 percent. The school also recorded 59 percent green trips during the Go for the Green spring contest this year.

Two School Pool Achievement Awards of $500 went to Dixie School in Marinwood and to Brookside Upper School in San Anselmo for generating the highest percentage of sign-ups to the new SchoolPool trip-matching program, 29 percent and 30 percent of their student population respectively.

This fall a $500 award, provided through a donation from Kaiser Permanente, will be given away to the school that generates the highest percentage of SchoolPool sign-ups by the middle of October.

Green Ways to School Awards:

  • First place: Loma Verde Elementary School, Novato
  • Second place: (tie) Manor Elementary School, Fairfax and Wade Thomas Elementary School, San Anselmo
  • Honorable Mention: Coleman Elementary School, San Rafael; Ross School, Ross; Laurel Del elementary School, San Rafael

SchoolPool trip-matching carpooling awards

  • First place: (tie) Brookside Upper Elementary School, San Anselmo; Dixie Elementary School, Marinwood
  • Second place: Mary Silveira Elementary School, Marinwood
  • Honorable Mention: Edna Maguire Elementary, Mill Valley


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