Spring Newsletter 2023

SR2S Newsletter Spring 2023

May 3 will be a big day for Safe Routes to Schools and its thousands of constituents all over Marin County. This day marks a celebration of biking, with the National Bike to School Day, and the final date for the J.E.D.I. Challenge. The contest has been carried out at 35 elementary schools during the Spring semester.

Safe Routes is expecting a great level of enthusiasm for this day. Participants in the National Bike to School Day will secure a final stamp for the raffle of a brand-new bike donated by Cleary Bikes and an adjustable helmet donated by Mike’s Bikes. Students’ J.E.D.I. cards will be collected on the spot by dozens of volunteers, who will perform the drawing for one bike and helmet per school site. The winners will be able to order a bicycle of their choice, and Mikes Bikes mechanics will then assemble the bikes and adjust them to each student at their facility in early June.

It is not only the bikers who will receive a prize or get their cards stamped on May 3. To make the event all inclusive, students who walk, scoot, park and walk, or ride the bus can come get a prize at the welcome table before school starts. Jambar is once again donating 3,000 bars, which will be given to middle and high school participants.

Mark your calendars – National Bike to School Day will be celebrated at over 50 K-12th grade schools on May 3.

Marin County Teens have great concern for the environment, particularly global warming.

This concern is translating into action: this Spring, 43 percent of middle schoolers opted for a active way to school (61% green trips). That means that they either walked, rode a bike, scooted, skateboarded, took the bus, or carpooled. That number is a stark contrast to the only 15 percent of students nationwide who walk or roll on their way to class, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lou Goodwin, Safe Routes’ Teen Program Coordinator, says that a very effective way to engage the students is through their teachers. In Kent, it is a math teacher, and in Miller Creek it is the science teacher. “I mostly work with schools that have educators who volunteer to recruit students interested in green transportation. They are already biking, walking to school and care about the environment.”

The Teen program tends to the particular needs of every school, so nothing is set in stone. An excellent example of how the program flows in some middle schools happened recently in Ross. Here a group of teens, recruited by the leadership teacher, is running the five events of the JEDI Challenge all on their own. This group feels compelled to teach the younger students about the benefits of green or active travel to school.

At both Kent and Miller Creek schools, over 300 children flooded their respective campuses this Spring to enjoy a morning fruit smoothie pedaled by students on a bike with a blender. These two events, organized by Safe Routes and student helpers, are a sample of the growing interest in fun activities that are good for the planet.

Safe Routes is currently serving nine Marin County public middle schools, where 6,387 students receive the benefits of the Teen Program through encouragement to choose active travel over the family car or receive pedestrian and biking safety classes.

After a year hiatus, Marin Health and Human Services (HHS) is partnering once more with Safe Routes to Schools in 2023 to cover some of the expenses of its bilingual program. A $10,000 grant was awarded to be used between January and September 2023. The grant is already supporting activities at ten elementary and K-8 schools in Marin County where more than half of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. The purpose of HHS is to help instill healthy and active habits among underserved communities, with active travel to school falling into the category of “active living.” In exchange, Safe Routes is aiding HHS in promoting its campaign Rethink your Drink, which highlights the importance of drinking water among children. The schools covered by the grant are BaySide MLK Academy, Bahia Vista, Laurel Dell, Coleman, Venetia Valley, West Marin-Inverness, Lynwood, Lu Sutton, and Hamilton. With the money awarded, Safe Routes is paying for tabling incentives, printed publicity, monthly prizes, and grand prizes that will be raffled off at the end of the current contest, the JEDI Challenge. The funds will also provide a comfortable start for the Fall 2023 semester, when Safe Routes will launch a set of completely new activities to promote active travel to school. Safe Routes to Schools sends a big thank you to HHS for its generosity.
The Spring semester marked the reintroduction of two schools from West Marin to the Safe Routes program: West Marin-Inverness, a K-8, and Bolinas-Stinson Elementary. West Marin-Inverness School, located in Point Reyes Station and Inverness, was initially contacted by Safe Routes’ Bilingual Coordinator Monica Leifer to join the encouragement program. Their family advocate, Glenda Mejia, and their Principal, Beth Nolan, jumped quickly at the opportunity to do all five events of “The Return of the JEDI Challenge.” With two campuses to handle, Glenda had to manage her logistics by recruiting parent volunteers, a custodian and even the office secretary from the West Marin campus to host the events. Glenda also stamped the JEDI cards of many excited students who came to the first Safe Routes to Schools’ welcome table in about eight years. “The contest was announced to the students the Monday before the event during a school assembly. They were very impatient, constantly asking me when they were going to get their JEDI cards. I think it’s something new and exciting to do after all the turmoil caused by the pandemic,” said Glenda. “When Wednesday came, the participants waited in line to receive their cards and incentives.” At Bolinas Elementary School, the schools’ return came as per Principal Michelle Stephens’ initiative. She showed interest during a task force meeting and immediately contacted Safe Routes’ volunteer coordinator, Cooper Miley, to see how they could join. They hosted their first event on March 22. Both West Marin-Inverness and Bolinas-Stinson schools are now part of the encouragement program, participate in the SR2S Task Force Meetings, and are receiving their bike and pedestrian safety classes.
Safe Routes’ small but mighty team of seven has been hard at work, teaching 270 pedestrian and bike safety classes to 8,000 students so far this year. The requests for more classes keep coming in, and five new schools (Novato High School, San Marin High School, Venetia Valley School, Hamilton School, and Davidson Middle School) have been added to the list of 40+ schools receiving education classes. The safety classes, offered for free to schools, are normally taught during the regular day schedule. Very often, it is during PE class when the students congregate to either hear about the rules of the road, learn safety tips, go for a walk around the block, or have a bike rodeo. For the bike classes, Safe Routes provides the necessary bikes and helmets for students who do not have their own. During this school year, Safe Routes’ instructors incorporated new classes into the existing curriculum. Classes are age appropriate and experiential, focusing on pedestrian, bike, and traffic safety for students in 2nd-6th and 9th grades. All classes meet California state curriculum standards. A new class, “Share the Road,” has been taught to all 9th grade students at San Marin and Novato High Schools. During the class, students learned the rules of the road and how to prevent crashes from a walking, driving, and biking perspective. Other topics covered included being aware of car doors, cycling hand signals, and the dangers of teen driving. At the end of the presentation, students could also sign up for other Safe Routes activities such as a bike ride to practice the skills learned during the class. Additionally, Safe Routes implemented a “Learn to Ride” class this Spring, which is offered to elementary school students at school bike rodeos. Though learning to ride a bike is often taught informally during bike rodeos, Safe Routes felt it was important to formalize this class into its curriculum to increase access and equity for children who may not have a bike at home. In the class, students are taught how to balance, pedal, and steer a bike. With the help of our instructors, children are often riding by the end of the session. “Learn to Ride” is available upon request and is currently in place at schools with larger populations of historically underserved students.

Safe Routes to Schools’ Bike Hero Award is open for nominations now until May 31. This is the fifth year in a row that the contest is offered at all elementary and middle schools in Marin County.

The growth in the contest’s popularity shows easily: from 2021 to 2022, the nominations grew by 234 percent. Put in raw numbers, 64 applications from 11 schools were received in 2021, while last year the number increased to 150 nominations from 19 schools.

“We are eager to promote the Bike Hero contest as an opportunity to advance more riding and good citizenship,” said Gwen Froh, Safe Routes to Schools Program Director.

Anyone can nominate a student for the Bike Hero Award. That means that a teacher, parent, school administrator, grandparent, or caregiver can write a short description about why a child who rides to school very often, while respecting the rules of the road, is a good “ROLL” model to their peers. There will be four winners who each will receive recognition and a $50 gift certificate from the store of their choice.

The 2022 winners shone by their grit, determination, and resiliency to overcome barriers such as inclement weather and long distances to school. Their joy of cycling was palpable. Their kindness to assist others, unmeasurable. All the nominees were superheroes for treating themselves, others, and the planet with respect, kindness and a love for life that is felt by riding a bike.

The 2022 winners are:

Zainy Vargas – TK, Venetia Valley Elementary
Zainy (age 5) bikes to and from school almost every day – she wears her helmet and a smile and always adheres to the rules of the road! She and her brother are shining examples.

Patrick Wagner – Grade 3, Bacich Elementary
Patrick Wagner bikes each day to school and committed to biking with his buds and to being the best younger brother. Patrick is kind to pedestrians, bikes safely, and follows the rules.

Callie Egan – Grade 5, A.E. Kent Middle School
Callie bikes to and from school every day. She often goes with a group of friends.

Nino DeFrenza, grade – 7, Miller Creek Middle
While most 13-year-olds are asleep in bed, Adriano wakes up early to bike to school. He lives a good 10 minutes away from his school by car, across the freeway and along a main road. At his young age, he’s learned to obey the rules of the road, have valuable quick-thinking skills, and build confidence when riding alone.

With forty-six percent of the Ross School students walking or biking to school, Safe Routes to Schools decided to give this school its first route map. For that reason, 15 students from 6th to 8th grade who belong to the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging (DEIB) Club, were recruited to be part of the process.

With large scale maps provided by the Transportation Authority of Marin, the students in the club gave up their lunchtime to discuss with Safe Routes staff their walking and biking routes to school. They pointed out challenging intersections, streets lacking sidewalks, and even hidden hillside trails to use.

The information the teens provide, along with some parent input, will go to the transportation engineers who can discuss whether or not infrastructure changes can be made to increase safety. Sometimes these changes are something small like signage. Other times, they may require a longer process, such as the need for a new sidewalk. At the end of this process Safe Routes will have a working Suggested Routes Map that can be used by Ross students in the years to come.

See if your school has a Suggested Routes Map HERE.

During the volunteer luncheon in January, Carrie Wurlitzer, a parent volunteer from Vallecito Elementary, told the other attendants that, for a while now, she has been getting her school to give away “Golden Eagle Tickets” as a prize for the students that walk and roll to school. This means that the school is contributing incentives that are normally distributed at the Safe Routes welcome table. The eagle is Vallecito’s mascot, hence the name of the ticket. Carrie explains how it works: “Eagle tickets are filled out by the students, turned into the office and once per month, at an assembly, the principal draws names. Winners get an extra Friday recess with the principal and get to choose a friend to come along. As you can imagine, Eagle tickets are coveted!” That motivated Carrie to turn Eagle Tickets into a Walk and Roll prize. “By using an already existing process, it is less work on the volunteers and is already a known process for the students. WIN WIN!!” Venetia Valley parent volunteer Heather Crossen, who was present at the luncheon, thought this would be a great idea for her school as well. They have “Falcon Cards,” which also make reference to the school’s mascot. Here, students from K-8 can use their ticket to purchase a snack from the school store, which are about $1 each. The school donated 290 “Falcon Cards” for the March 15 event and publicized the prize in their weekly breakdown. “Using the Falcon Cards is quick and easy. When the announcement came out, I think it motivated more kids to participate. It looks to me like it increased participation that morning,” said Heather. Contributions like these help increase the level of excitement among students and frees some of the non-profit resources to invest in different programs.

Free bike repairs, a bike rodeo to learn rules of the road, and a bike blender to make smoothies are just some of the activities that will be included in the second annual Bridge the Bay event, sponsored by Safe Routes to Schools. The event, a celebration of the joy of biking, will be held at Pickleweed Park in the Canal area of San Rafael on May 20 from 12 – 4 p.m.

Experienced mechanics from the Bay Area Bike Mobile and 10 interns from San Rafael will be on hand to fix bicycles. Last year, over 60 bikes were repaired, giving them a new life and creating more opportunities for children to spend time outdoors.

This free and open-to-the-public event will culminate with a parade along the Bay Trail to the Richmond-San Rafael bridge and back. Parents/caregivers and children of all ages are welcomed to join.

High school students wishing to spend an afternoon outdoors in service to their community are invited to contact Cooper Miley at [email protected] for more information.


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