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The success of the Zavala Elementary School bike club, The Freewheelin’ Mustangs, is a model for increasing biking and walking. The National Center for Safe Routes to School (SRTS) releases new travel mode report on characteristics called Shifting Modes: A comparative Analysis of SRTS Program Elements and Travel Mode Outcomes that identify the following four key factors that make a SRTS program successful:
Identifying an in-school leader, often the principal, to champion SRTS.
Conducting activities that reinforce walking and bicycling, such as frequent walker/biker programs and walk/ride to school events.
Generating parent support for SRTS
Establishing policies that support SRTS, such as early dismissal for students who walk or bike home.
How Zavala Elementary applied the above elements:
1. Zavala employs a Prime Time Coordinator who is highly involved and runs the bicycle
club. The principal is also enthusiastic and extremely supportive of the program.
2. Zavala chose the City of Austin grant funded program “Prime Time” to support the after-
school and summer bicycling club to reinforce walking and bicycling. They also have
Wednesdays as official bike and walk to school days.
3. They generate parent support by inviting parents to ride with them and sometimes require
parental involvement for child participation.
4. Parents/guardians sign a parent agreement that outlines the bike club student and parent
Zavala Elementary’s SRTS success is best demonstrated by the increase in members of their Bike Club. The Freewheelin’ Mustang membership has gone from 6 to 90 participants since the start, September 2009. Currently there are over 50 students riding 4 times a week. Students have chance to ride each day with the after- school program and on Saturday mornings. Zavala Elementary is the only school in Texas to receive $1000 SRTS mini grant. With that money they bought tubes, tires, locks, bike stands, water bottle cages and maintenance tools for the Bike Club.
Before a student can participate, parents come in and sign an agreement detailing expectations and goals. Students then must take a safety course which includes a bike rodeo. Once they pass this course, they get the green light to go out on road. The BikeTexas SafeCyclist Curriculum materials are a major part of the lessons. Some students also learn how to become neighborhood route leaders. The school has a fleet of around 10 children’s bike and a four adult bikes for volunteers and bike club coaches. Coaches are teachers, park rangers, Austin SRTS employees, college students, parents and neighborhood volunteers. They have Friday and Saturday rides so all students can participate without conflicting homework or tutorials. At the end of the semester students complete questionnaire on how their bike club has benefited them and what they would like changed.
For rides, there is a ratio of 4 students to 1 adult and typically roughly 18 students per ride. The leader of the group wears a vest to be easily identified. From experience, the leaders found the need for a clear code for everyone to stop. They picked 911 to pass up to lead to know to stop. Students learn trail etiquette before heading they ride on the trails. They let runners know that there are 20 riders passing and each cyclist says hello to runner.
Kids now wear Camelbacks, a backpack hydration system.
Thanks to the City of Austin Prime Time grant the school was able to extend the program into summer school. There were twenty students in the 2011 summer program.The costs are minimal, and the grant money is stretched by using volunteers, donations and the free summer lunch program for breakfast and lunch. There are no transportation costs, as the instructors and students ride their bikes everywhere they need to go. To document the experience, students made a journal of their daily participation in the summer camp.
These basic elements, when applied to any school can prove equally successful. Zavala has demonstrated it can be done. This program has solved traffic problems around the school, increased students health, and reduced carbon emissions around the school, while teacher’s report kids arrive to school energized and ready to learn.
It’s a win, win situation for all involved.