GREEN TEAMS FOR TRANSPORTATION
Green Teams have been forming in schools across the country. A Green Team is a school-based committee that is focused on evaluating an aspect of the school’s ecological footprint and then developing a program to reduce related effects. This can result in recycling programs, energy audits, the installation of energy generating devices like solar panels, planting a school garden, or reducing car usage. This is usually accomplished through classroom curriculum and activities that raise awareness, actions that have definitive results and long-term policy changes that promote the green activities.
To date, most Green Teams have focused on actions that can be instituted on the school campus. They often are centered on creating physical changes to the school environment, whether it is providing recycling containers, planting gardens, or installing energy efficient light bulbs or other appliances. These types of changes require little behavioral change, if any.
Transportation can have a significant environmental impact on the journey to and from school as so many parents now drive their children. This can cause severe traffic congestion at the school site, create air pollution and greenhouse gases, and promote a sedentary lifestyle for the students. A transportation-focused Green Team develops actions, education, and policies that encourage green ways to school: walking, biking, or traveling by scooters, skateboards, bus or carpool.
Encouraging green ways to school requires more focus on individual behavior along with shifting cultural norms. Promoting green active transportation choices like walking and biking often includes seeking physical changes to the environment. Most of these changes are often off campus and require the cooperation of the local jurisdiction. This is usually accomplished with a Safe Routes to Schools Task Force, which evaluates the routes and entrances that lead to the school and recommends and implements those safety improvements.
While transportation-focused Green Team actions present challenges, they also have many benefits for the school, the parents, and the students. Transportation is the largest contributor of green house gases in the Bay Area. In Marin County, it accounts for 62% of the greenhouse gas emissions (it accounts for 55% in the whole Bay Area). Introducing children to green transportation choices at an early age can have long lasting benefits: clean air, less traffic, active lifestyles, and reducing the risk of obesity.
It also has educational benefits as well. Children who walk or bike to school are more alert and ready to learn when they arrive. The California Department of Education found that those students who score well on physical fitness tests usually also score well on academic tests. Green transportation can also provide parents and students with a social network that can provide opportunities beyond transporting their children to school. It can save the parents time and money and can save the school money on hazard busing where students who close to school must be bused due to dangerous conditions.
Student Club Focused Green Teams
The most common form of Green Teams is student clubs that focus on green activities. These clubs meet at lunch or after school with a parent and/or teacher advisors. Sometimes they are connected with a classroom-based curriculum, and other times, the club studies the issue outside the classroom. The students then promote green activities to the whole school. These clubs usually focus on raising awareness and taking action activities.
Examples of transportation projects that are club focused:
Students initiate regular Walk and Roll to School Days and then run a contest during those days to encourage participation.
A Green Team that has been running Cool the Earth decides to focus on transportation using the special actions and trading cards. Cards are traded on weekly Walk and Roll to School Days. They introduce transportation activities during lunch.
Classroom Focused Green Teams:
These are spearheaded by a teacher with a particular interest in promoting a green activity. The activities spring from educational curriculum that introduces the students to climate change and other relevant ecological information. The students then evaluate the existing conditions at the school and choose an action that will address the issue. They then promote that activity to the whole school.
Examples of a transportation projects that are classroom focused:
Students studying greenhouse effects register their fellow students for a Save a Gallon or Active4.me contest and track their journey to school for a four-week period. Measuring the results before, during and after the contest they compute the amount of CO2 reduced and the long term sustainability of that effort.
Students analyze marketing strategies and how they influence purchasing decisions. Using similar techniques, students create a campaign to effectively market eco-friendly transportation.
Stakeholder Green Teams
These Green Teams can be individual school or school district-based and are largely made up of adults, although they often include student participation. These Green Teams include school administration, parents, and teachers as well as representatives from other organizations or government agencies. Stakeholder Green Teams are more focused on developing policies for the school or the district. They often develop the curriculum that will then be used in the classroom, promote school wide actions, and create comprehensive plans for accomplishing their mission.
Examples of a transportation projects for stakeholders:
Develop a SchoolPool program that helps parents find others in their neighborhoods to walk, bike, or carpool together.
Develop a comprehensive Safe Routes to Schools Travel Plan.
Develop policies that support walking and biking curriculum and promote Green Ways to School.
As with any Green Team, the first step is to bring the people together. If this is a classroom-based Green Team, then it will be based in a teacher’s classroom and will be following specific curriculum. If it is a student-based Green Team, you will want to identify the faculty and/or parent advisor. You will then promote the club and encourage participation among the students. For stakeholder-based Green Teams, you will be recruiting from both within the school and possibly outside the school if you are using this as an opportunity to develop a School Travel Plan. This will include someone from administration, teachers, PTA representative, the school transportation or facilities manager, and student government.
If your school already has a Safe Routes to School program than you will want to team up with the Team leaders from that group. Your school may already participate in a Safe Routes to School Task Force as well. This group will already be developing (or may have already developed) a School Travel Plan. If so, then you can work together to implement sections of the Travel Plan.
It’s always important to evaluate the success of your program in order to determine if you have made an impact and to choose the best programs that fit your school. The most important measure is to determine how students get to school before you begin your program and then measure again at the end of the school year. The National Center for Safe routes to School provides Student Tally Surveys and will enter the data for you if you send them the completed forms. These surveys are taken over a three day period and are collected in the classroom by the teachers. They ask the students how they got to school that day and how they plan to go home that afternoon. Through a raise of hands they determine how many walked, biked, carpooled or bused. The whole process takes less than five minutes.
There are additional evaluation tools including parent surveys and student attitude surveys. These two tools are quite useful to assist you in determining which programs would be the best fit for your school before you launch a program. These surveys are generally sent home to the parents either through student backpack mail or via email. Email is always best if it is available because it saves you time entering data. Since the respondents are self selected it’s good to have a goal of getting at least a 20% return; 50% is even better in order to have accurate information. A parent survey generally asks parents some key questions:
The age or grade of their child
The distance they live from school
The frequency with which they use various modes
Why they choose to drive
What programs or changes would get them to change to another mode
Student attitude surveys are a great way to get students involved in the program right from the start. They are best used in middle and high schools but can also be done by upper grades in elementary school. They can help to design the questions and also to gather the information by interviewing their peers or distributing the surveys in the classrooms. They can also help out in entering the information on an on-line program. Some questions to include:
How they get to school and how often
What keeps them from walking or biking to school
What are the benefits of walking and biking
What would encourage them to walk or bike
Similar questions for carpooling or bus
What marketing/advertising gets their attention
You can download student and parent surveys at http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/data-central. You can also get more personalized versions of the parent survey and samples of student attitude surveys from Marin Safe Routes to Schools by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org