Back to the Future: Walk or Wheel Empowers Students
By Peg Champion, GreenTown Los Altos Correspondent
Christian Foley, student at Gardner Bullis Elementary, biked to his first day of school.
It’s a sparkling clear September morning in Los Altos, and children are streaming into school, chattering with their friends. Bikes of every color, size and style fill the bike racks. No idling cars spew exhaust fumes in the drop-off lane, no stressed-out parents sit behind steering wheels –– just kids biking or walking to school.
This may appear like an idyllic scene from the past, but it’s the future vision of Michael McTighe, chair of GreenTown Los Altos’ Walk or Wheel (WoW!) program. “In addition to reducing carbon emissions and vehicle miles traveled,” says McTighe, “our primary goal this year is increasing the number of students who walk or ride to school by 20 percent.”
WoW! evolved from the Freiker –– short for “frequent biker” –– program launched by Jon Simms at Almond Elementary School two years ago. GreenTown partnered with Simms to expand Freiker to Santa Rita, Springer and Egan Junior High School. More than 1,000 students took part during the program’s first years.
This month GreenTown, school PTAs and parent volunteers will expand the program to the other five Los Altos district schools and to several private schools, including Bullis Charter School.
The WoW! program is both green and high-tech. Four WoW! schools use a solar-powered, wireless-enabled Radio Frequency Identification reader (RFID) called the Zap, developed by Boltage (formerly Freiker). When students wearing a RFID tag, walk or wheel under the Zap, it beeps, recording their unique number in their personal account. In early September, WoW! will establish a baseline of the number of students getting to school by car, bike or on foot. Students’ success in walking or wheeling will be measured throughout the school year. GreenTown partners with school PTAs to reward students with stickers, wristbands and pizza parties.
WoW! students benefit from outdoor exercise, but parents have seen another advantage – with each trip, children become more self-assured. “Since Brandon began riding to school, I’ve seen a transformation,” says Michelle Le, whose son is now a student at Egan. “He has developed confidence and a real sense of responsibility to the group of friends he rides with.”
Peg Champion is the principal of Champion Organic Communications. Her work focuses on communication and education strategies to encourage sustainable behavior.