Elementary school children will be safer on their way to school this year due in part to a $5,000 grant received by the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition (SCBC) from the Rohnert Park Foundation. The grant will allow the organization to provide an additional elementary school with Safe Routes to School activities.
Safe Routes to School is a program that is facilitated by SCBC in many elementary and middle schools throughout Sonoma County. The mission of the program is to get more families safely walking, biking and using alternative transportation to and from school.
“The Safe Routes to School program is a county program with the goal of encouraging more families to walk and bike to school, utilizing active transportation,” says Tina Panza, Education and Safe Routes to School Director for the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. “We also encourage alternative transportation like carpooling and bussing. But our main focus is on encouraging walking, biking, skateboarding and scootering – any type of foot transportation.
We also educate students and families on how to do that safely.”
To that end the coalition offers pedestrian and bike safety education. They facilitate school assemblies and activities to encourage and educate children on the benefits of walking and biking to school, provide pedestrian and bicycling safety and skills curriculum, as well as manage on-bicycle education through bike rodeos at schools.
“The community grant enables us to expand our program in Rohnert Park this year,” says Panza. “We have limited number of schools in the county that we can serve. We have traditionally been serving two schools in Rohnert Park through the county program and this grant allows us to serve an additional school.”
SCBC is currently serving Evergreen Elementary School and Monte Vista Elementary School, and to a limited extent, Marguerite Hahn Elementary School. This year, students at Richard Crane Elementary School will also benefit from this education due to the grant.
“We’re doing a number of things with Crane,” says Panza. “We are doing a bike rodeo with the fourth and fifth graders which is basically an on-bicycle P.E. class that we do. We train them on bike safety basics like riding on the right, signaling, looking both ways, wearing a helmet and how to do an ABC check. We go through all that with them. Every kid gets on a bike. If they can’t ride we sometimes have the ability to teach them. We do one on-bike class and two prior lessons in the classroom.”
The organization will also work with second and third graders on pedestrian safety, including two in-class lessons and a neighborhood safety walk to teach the students in the real world how to safely cross at intersections.
Part of the program also includes conducting an evaluation and assessment of the school’s potential for walking and biking. Data is collected to determine how many children are currently biking and walking to the school and where the children live in relation to the school. Those statistics can then be compared to show the potential for students to walk or bike to school and communicate that to the families.
“What I like best is seeing the changes,” says Panza. “In every school that we work with I meet a parent or a kid who has decided to walk or bike to school and has decided that they want to do that. We want to build a love for bicycling and make people realize it’s fun and doable. Even if they’re not doing it all of the time but at least thinking about it and making a choice, instead of just automatically going to their car, that is an achievement to us. There are multifaceted benefits; for the community, people’s health and our environment.”