About This Guide
A SchoolPool is a way of sharing in the duties of getting children to and from school. SchoolPool options include carpooling, walk pools (“walking school buses”), bike pools (“bike trains”) or arranging bus buddies for school buses or public transit. Two or more families agree to share responsibilities by trading days as pool leaders. Many parents have taken up SchoolPooling as a way to save time, save money and provide a safer way for their children to get to school.
This guide will assist schools in setting up Neighborhood SchoolPool Networks in which one or more parents act as “captains,” helping organize all interested parents in their neighborhood into a larger pool of families. The guide will show:
How to delineate neighborhoods,
Techniques for accumulating names and contacts within those neighborhoods,
How captains can organize their neighborhoods, and
How to promote the program.
Why create Neighborhood SchoolPool Networks?
Many parents have already chosen to SchoolPool. They carpool with a neighbor or have initiated Walking School Buses within their neighborhood. These individual efforts have proven very effective in saving parents time and money. Many parents would be willing to SchoolPool, but need help getting started. Parents may not be aware of other potential partners in their neighborhood. A SchoolPool network will bring all interested parents together to form a larger group of potential SchoolPool partners. A bigger pool of parents who participate in walking or biking groups reduces the amount of time any individual needs to spend accompanying the children to school. Larger numbers give parents greater opportunities to find SchoolPool partners whose children are of similar ages, and who share the same time schedules.
When a school forms a Neighborhood SchoolPool Network it has a greater ability to reduce traffic congestion around the school and promote the health and well being of the children and the community. The network ties in well with other Safe Routes to Schools efforts, such as weekly Walk and Roll to School Days, contests and other events.
Creating Neighborhoods for your School
A Neighborhood SchoolPool Network requires dedicated volunteers and adequate planning to be effective. However, once a program is set up properly, it should require minimal maintenance and you will be able to reintroduce the program each school year. Steps involved include:
FORM A COMMITTEE
To develop a strong Neighborhood SchoolPool program at your school you need to start with the right people. At a minimum, you need parent volunteers who are willing to devote some time to the setup and launch of the program. Administrative involvement is recommended, preferably the school’s principal or assistant principal. Parents are more likely to participate in a program if they see it supported by the top administrator of the school. If the school has an existing Safe Routes to Schools Task Force, the committee can be comprised of existing Task Force members. Participants can include:
City council representative
City public works
School board trustee
The committee’s main function is to identify neighborhoods, assist in the creation of neighborhood maps, help identify neighborhood residents, recruit neighborhood captains, and promote the program. It is best to initiate the committee in the latter part of a school year in order to be ready to launch at the beginning of the next school year. It is also recommended to set a regular meeting time—at least once a month when setting up, with possible sub-committees meeting more frequently. Meetings should be continued during the summer, if possible, to ensure that you are ready to launch when school starts. TAM’s Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S) will help facilitate the meetings and take notes. Documenting the process enables those who will continue the program to have a record of decisions made.
SR2S staff will provide committees with a base map that shows school locations, streets, parks, and other relevant information, such as the school’s enrollment area. When identifying neighborhoods, the committee should consider the logical routes that people would take to school, taking into account street connectivity and topography. If possible, SR2S staff will determine the populations in those neighborhoods. School districts often have a breakdown of student population to help determine school assignments. The goal is to have enough students in a neighborhood to create matches, but not have more students than a volunteer can organize. Initially, one captain can likely handle a group of around 100 students or about 50 to 60 families. A school of around 400 students will usually have six to ten neighborhoods depending on the geography of the community.
MAP YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
Once the neighborhood boundaries have been determined, SR2S staff will digitize this information and create an overview map of all the neighborhoods. Further described in the next section, these maps can be used in a variety of ways to identify other residents within a particular neighborhood. After a school has completed its neighborhood map, a future undertaking will involve creating walking and biking route maps. School route maps are effective tools for informing the school’s community of the safest, most convenient and accessible routes to school. They can identify areas to avoid owing to traffic, lack of signage, or other conditions. Maps can include locations of crossing guards, park-and-walk sites, carpool meet sites, and safety tips. If there is a City public works representative on the committee, he or she can assist in identifying the best routes, and placing neighborhood boundaries. (link to Kentfield maps and/or Larkspur maps)
Modern technology provides many options for identifying the students within each neighborhood. There are simple methods to determine the approximate locations of your students, as well as more complex solutions that provide even more information. Be sure to provide safeguards to protect privacy, including asking parents to either “opt out” or “opt in” to the program.
A quick and easy way is to sort the school directory data by street name and address (assuming the parents have given permission for use of their information). First, create separate fields for the address number and the street name, then re-sort the information by street name and do a secondary sort by street number. This will give you a list of parents in order of their address and streets. While this will not completely correspond to your map, it will give a general idea of which students live within each neighborhood. You can then send those parents the neighborhood maps with your initial outreach.
Designate and name neighborhoods before parents fill out their school registration forms. Include a special field that asks the parents to identify their neighborhood (provide the map so they can see where they live). You can then sort your database by those neighborhoods.
Neighborhood SchoolPool Program
The Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) offers a Neighborhood SchoolPool matchlist website to all schools in Marin County. Parents can sign up for SchoolPool and receive a list of other families in their neighborhood who are interested in walking, biking, or driving to school together. If there is a captain for the neighborhood, he/she will be responsible for contacting those parents who signed up and coordinating matches based on where people live, as well as the children’s grade.
The committee can also use geographic information system (GIS) software to merge the school database with its neighborhood map. This approach, however, will require special software and a GIS specialist. Check with your City staff to see if this system is available and if a GIS specialist would be willing to be of assistance. Once the GIS specialist knows the boundaries of your designated neighborhoods, he or she will be able to generate a list of residents for each neighborhood.
Many neighborhoods already have existing email groups (Yahoo Groups, Google Groups etc.) which can provide an effective way to identify and communicate with families in your area. Neighborhood-based websites such as Nextdoor.com have the advantage of being private social networks; each member’s address must be verified before it is added to the network. To create a Nextdoor site you simply provide your neighborhood boundaries to Nextdoor, who in turn will create the neighborhood site for you. Then it is up to you to spread the word to your neighbors about the site, including promoting it through the local schools if possible.
RECRUIT NEIGHBORHOOD CAPTAINS
Recruiting neighborhood captains is much the same process as recruiting any volunteers. You need to work with your PTA and other well-connected parents to determine who might be interested in participating.
The job of captain may be appealing to people who are already walking or biking, show an interest in carpooling, and/or are concerned about traffic safety. Unlike many school volunteer jobs, the captain’s job is focused on the parent’s local neighborhood. It has definitive tasks that get easier over time. During the launch, the captain will need to do extensive outreach, which can be supported by the School committee. Safe Routes to Schools, has materials such as e-blast templates, posters and guidebooks. Once the program is launched, if the launch is successful, the captain will not need to be doing as much outreach and will instead be fielding contacts from interested parents. All of this can make it an attractive job for a civic-minded parent who wants to get involved without being overwhelmed.
Like any volunteers, captains need to be acknowledged and rewarded for their efforts. Recognize them in your school newsletter or in school assemblies. When you bring your captains together for follow-up meetings, provide snacks and drinks.
Bring your captains together and review the Captain’s Guide (link). Ask them to review the routes and make recommended changes. They can also identify any safety issues within their neighborhoods which can then be addressed as part of the regular Safe Routes to Schools process (link to travel planning in the Green Guide and/or Saferoutesinfo).