Even though students are not physically traveling to and from school, transportation and physical activity are still essential needs for families and students everywhere. Safe Routes to School programs have the opportunity to carve out new, non-traditional, and forward-thinking ways to support community health and safety and equitable transportation options in a remote learning environment.
The abrupt shift to remote learning in the spring challenged schools and school-based programs to rapidly shift gears and adapt to an unprecedented new reality. Going into the fall, we have had time to intentionally prepare and plan for the role of Safe Routes to School programs in helping families and communities address the challenges presented by remote learning. The recommendations below highlight strategies, tools, and ideas based on lessons learned from the spring to help you infuse creativity and new life into your Safe Routes to School program.
Guiding Recommendation: Use this moment in history to listen to the unique and pressing needs of your community members rather than pushing forward with previously established plans or agendas. Taking time to hear what your community really needs and prioritizes can help you establish deeper, more trusting relationships, and infuse creativity and new life into your program.
Reach out to parents, caregivers, volunteers, Walking School Bus leaders, and community partners. Check in with them to see how they are doing and what they need, including needs that are not necessarily related to Safe Routes to School. Work with them to connect with the students they interact with through their Safe Routes to School program to do the same.
Crossing guards are essential partners in Safe Routes to School programs. Keep them engaged and active in Safe Routes to School efforts through self-paced learning opportunities. Many communities have a difficult time recruiting and retaining crossing guards, so it would be worthwhile to figure out how to keep them on the payroll. Identify additional tasks and responsibilities for crossing guards to keep them involved, such as conducting walk audits.
When reaching out to teachers and other school staff, start by asking what support they need and how you may be able to help rather than by asking for support with your program.
Use targeted outreach to engage parents and caregivers who don’t usually jump to leadership or volunteer opportunities for a variety of reasons. Work with school community liaisons or engagement specialists to reach out to low-income families, Black and Indigenous families, and families of color. Keep engagement asks specific, bearing in mind not to overburden families with coordinating programs.
Some communities do not have neighborhoods that are conducive for walking for a variety of reasons. Let families know that they can still stay engaged and “Walk in Place” inside their home, apartment/neighborhood complex, local park, community center, or other safe space.
Innovation in Action: In Austin, Texas, the city’s Safe Routes to School program employs more than 200 crossing guards. During school closures, they offered self-paced learning opportunities in the form of podcasts, webinars and reading material, so that crossing guards could continue their regular working hours. The Safe Routes to School program staff met with crossing guards individually to understand individual technology and language capabilities, so that learning options were inclusive of everyone’s needs. Not only were crossing guards able to engage with continued learning and professional development on their own time, they were able to connect with other crossing guards and broaden their understanding of how significant their role is to the greater Safe Routes movement.
Text messaging is a widely accessible tool, while internet applications might not be. Start a group text with parents to coordinate walking school buses, organize bike trains, and share information. For online engagement, explore your local Facebook and NextDoor groups to connect with parent volunteers and advocates, and to organize trainings and bike swaps. TikTok is also a great application for engaging students with fun, interesting video programming.
PLANNING FOR THE LONG TERM
Identify organizations and groups outside of police departments with positive, existing relationships with schools, and come up with creative strategies to partner and improve engagement through collective impact. Work with youth, families, teachers and community partners to brainstorm solutions for culturally-informed programming that meets local needs.
Foster connection, communication, and relationships among parents and caregivers who participate in walking programs. Use existing applications or develop contact lists so that families can more easily contact each other.
Utilize a number of outreach methods to reach students and families, including text messaging, teleparent, social media, NextDoor, paid advertising, culturally-centered radio channels, and local TV.
Partner with local community groups such as churches, recreation centers, and boys & girls clubs. Be an ally, volunteer, offer bike repairs, and show up for other organizations' priority concerns.
Translate communications and materials into languages spoken and commonly used in your community. If your community has limited programming options at this time, take this opportunity to translate and distribute materials.
Support families participating in school meal pick-ups. Print Safe Routes to School activities and other materials to send home with families. Partner with them to identify safe walking and biking opportunities to and from school meal pick-ups. Offer bike repair or helmet giveaways at meal pick-up times.
Host a bike swap program to provide bikes to people who need them most. Engage with your local bike shop to assess bikes, then host a swap using a lottery system where donors could trade for a different bike, and those without a bike could choose from what is available.
The first day of Safe Routes to School programming should not be the first time a community meets or sees practitioners. Build in time to get to know the community and open up communication about their history and assets/resources that have worked, and build trust before entering. This is particularly important for practitioners who live or identify outside of a specific community.
Planning for the long term
Prioritize engaging with Black and Indigenous communities and communities of color. Center Black lives and voices, and offer culturally-sensitive, trauma-informed programming. Stick through difficult conversations and promote tools to help the community build resilience and heal.
Stay connected to the Safe Routes Partnership's blog for reflections on how Safe Routes efforts can support Black Lives, racial justice, and equitable access in your community.
Guiding recommendation: Building on the increased need and demand for walking and biking during the pandemic, start or continue building infrastructure that supports walking and biking.
Conduct walk audits virtually, independently, or in small groups following local physical distancing and safety requirements.
Revisit projects that were slated to begin construction, and follow up with local agency staff to ensure that they are on track.
Experiment with tactical urbanism projects and pop-ups to make changes, especially while there may be less car traffic in your community. Activate crosswalks and sidewalks with creative artwork, work on temporary or permanent infrastructure installations, and incorporate positive health and safety messaging.
Consider physical distancing, use personal protective equipment (PPE), and adhere to local health guidelines when completing in-person audits.
Include students and families in developing audit materials and completing walk audits in your community to ensure user friendliness and maximum engagement.
Prioritize infrastructure projects that improve safety in neighborhoods and in communities most adversely impacted by the virus, including Black, Indigenous, people of color, and low-income communities. Unsafe or poorly connected transportation options are one piece of the systemic reason that low-income and BIPOC communities are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Planning for the long term
Identify infrastructure projects that are low-hanging fruit and relatively inexpensive, medium-size projects, and large-scale projects to consider as jurisdictions pursue funding. Advocate for high-priority safety projects for communities, celebrate small wins, and focus on sustaining momentum.
Reach out to neighbors and members of the school community whose schools/neighborhoods have recently received infrastructure improvements. Capture stories about how this has positively impacted their lives, either when school was in session or during the pandemic. Use these stories to advocate for future infrastructure improvements.
Guiding recommendation: Promote walking and biking as a safe, physically distant way for families and caregivers to support their kids' essential needs while learning from home: meaningful connection with adults, physical movement and activity, and socialization with peers.
Promote at-home ideas for staying physically active and engaging with active transportation options. Offer a curated list and simple resources for parents (such as three choices each week instead of exhaustive lists) with ideas for setting family health and wellness goals.
Promote walking, biking, and rolling activities that the whole family/household can enjoy.
Encourage families and caregivers to practice walking and bicycling to school while traffic volumes are lower so they build the habit and get more comfortable using active transportation to get to school.
Partner with local businesses who have been impacted by COVID-19-related closures to participate in a scavenger hunt where students and families walk and bike to local businesses to earn prizes. Purchase gift cards or merchandise from these local shops to offer as rewards for completing the challenge.
Similar to a Remote Drop Off/Park-N-Walk program in rural communities, identify and suggest places that people can walk safely close to home or school.
In addition to scavenger hunts, host remote walking and biking challenges.
Plan a remote Walk to School Day for October 2, 2020 with a variety of activities, including poster contests with prizes.
Use challenges that allow for a variety of in-person, remote, and hybrid participation so that students and families with different needs and comfort can still participate.
Take a “two-generation” approach, such as “Safe Routes for All” with programming and options for the whole family.
Planning for the long term
Guiding recommendation: Provide teachers, parents, and caregivers with plug-and-play content and materials to support kids to learn how to safely walk and bike in their communities.
Connect parents and teachers to existing online content or pull together your own online walk & roll safety curriculum. Offer printed materials of the same curriculum for those who don’t have easy or consistent internet access. All educational resources should be available in the languages spoken by students and families.
Reach out to your school’s PE teachers to incorporate Safe Routes to School activities into physical education materials. Offer professional development “train the trainer” instruction for PE teachers, health teachers, and other interested partners to integrate into online learning. This could be a webinar or printed packet with information about safe walking and biking education.
Partner with local libraries, Parks and Recreation agencies, and other community services/organizations that are already offering online streaming content or public television programming, and integrate Safe Routes to School education as part of that programming.
Design, build, and install a pop-up traffic garden that students and families can visit remotely on their own time.
Offer or share online educational videos on Bicycle Basics for Families so families can brush up on bicycling skills.
Offer to conduct school safety assemblies as webinars or recordings rather than in-person assemblies.
Host bike helmet giveaways during “open street” hours. This could take place during regular street closures for outdoor dining, walking and biking, food distribution services, farmer’s markets, etc.
If you have a contract to provide Safe Routes to School educational programming, reach out to your grant administrator to request a change to your scope of work. Try not to reinvent the wheel with materials and content that have already been developed; instead, focus on creative ways to engage students remotely. You may wish to encourage students to create content that resonates with them.
Provide Safe Routes to School lessons that are “bite-sized,” approachable, easy to complete independently, and relatable to students’ real-world experiences.
Remember that not all students have internet access or devices to access content.
Activities should reflect the feedback received during evaluation & engagement efforts. Community input should inform what Safe Routes to School programs look like through COVID-19 changes.
Bike Safety Presentations and Worksheets for ages 5-9, 10+ in English, Spanish, and Hindi from EZ Ride (Haitian Creole and Pedestrian Safety coming soon!)
Planning for the long term
After the school year begins, work with teachers and school administrators to discuss how your Safe Routes to School program can continue to offer traffic safety education and physical activity programming in spite of remote learning. Develop a Safe Routes to School guide for parents and identify ways they can get involved with and support your local program. Use these resources on volunteer recruitment and management to get started and this resource for parent champions.
Advocate for Safe Routes to School efforts and reinforce the relevance of how physical activity boosts mental health and improves immune response toward chronic and infectious diseases.
Guiding recommendation: Connect with members of your community to understand transportation needs and preferences both related to the return to school and the pandemic more generally. Assess how Safe Routes to School programming and infrastructure that supports kids' safe travel to school can also help community members meet essential needs. If capacity allows, evaluate how the lack of in-person school affects kids’ physical activity.
Survey, talk with, and listen to youth, parents, caregivers, teachers, and other partners to identify needs and possible solutions. Other groups may have already done surveys. See if they are willing to share information with you. Use evaluation to inform programming and funding opportunities.
Make a prioritization list of communities most in need and try to direct resources to those communities first.
Assess how shifts in traffic volume and speed have affected active transportation rates and safety.
Collaborate with local partners and agencies who provide essential needs and services—mutual aid efforts and food distribution centers could be opportunities to give away bike helmets, educational materials, bike swaps, etc.
If your community has already undertaken Open Streets, Play Streets, Slow Streets, or any other innovative approaches to making more public space available for people to be outside, assess what neighborhoods these are available in. Support community members to self-determine whether something like this is desired and if so, the approach to increasing public space and safe opportunities for recreation and travel that would be most beneficial to them and their neighborhood.
Take a walk or ride around your community and take note of infrastructure challenges. Consider using/imagining a transportation mode you don't usually take—for example, if you usually drive to the grocery store/park/school, what would this trip look like if you had to walk? Bike? Take transit?
Use the built environment to gather data. Invite people to share thoughts and concerns on a community comment board, a sidewalk chalk display, or a comment box set up at a food distribution center.
Communities everywhere have seen an uptick in walking, biking, and outdoor play, and the disparities in access to safe, open spaces have been magnified.
Many cities are seeing increased speeding due to low traffic volumes, resulting in pedestrian deaths. Determine whether this is happening in your community.
Host an Instagram contest where students and community members can showcase how they are getting around their communities and staying physically active while staying at home.
Invite students and community members to participate in a remote Photovoice project taking photos of built environment features that either help or hinder them from being physically active while learning at home.
Planning for the long term
- Revise or create a new Safe Routes to School action plan with programming strategies for COVID-19. If you need an idea for where to get started on Safe Routes to School action planning, check out the action plans for several California communities here (midway down the page).