Managing Our Systems for an Effective State and National Learning Network

Kathy CookeHi, my name is Kathy Cooke, and I'm network coordinator for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership! Even though I battle daily to get my two sons to put on a jacket or long pants during Portland's rainier months, I've found ways to make sure other "systems" are in place that help them get safely to and from school. We have tools at the ready to fix their bike brakes or pump air in their tires.  Together we've worked out safe walking routes to and from school and family code words to use in emergencies.

They are accountable for managing their own journey once they head out that front door, armed with the right gear and awareness of what they'll do to travel safely. Even though they don't dress warmly enough for my standards, I trust my sons to know how our systems work -- if anything, I'm learning not to argue with pre-teen boys who assure me they are "all good"!

By the same token, I have the privilege of managing web-based, technical platforms and support tools for the National Partnership, to ensure we too can effectively help all kids walk and bicycle safely to school and in life. As network coordinator, I collaborate with our network director, Kris Kessel, and our technical assistance director, Robert Ping, in structuring and overseeing programs such as reports management, webinar tools, Web 2.0 systems and protocols. All are intended to help our state network advocacy organizers and regional policy managers to effectively communicate internally and with network partners, stakeholders and other advocates.

I am also excited that after working for the National Partnership since 2009 with Robert, I get to focus with him and another colleague, Dave Cowan, on the launch of a new National Learning Network that will serve all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This National Learning Network will provide technical assistance to advocates, partners and decision makers who can best improve policies and programs around the country that result in more sidewalks, bike infrastructure and improved access to safe walking and bicycling for lower-income communities.

Among the many tools that require day-to-day management and support from me, I am very thrilled about one in particular, called the Childhood Obesity Geographic Information Systems (COGIS) tool. I'll be helping all of my National Partnership colleagues become trained in and devoted users of this data mapping program that will provide a means of depicting the childhood obesity and physical activity trends and conditions that exist in communities all across the U.S. By availing ourselves of GIS mapping, we will have a better means of explaining, through demographic and public health data, how different communities can bridge the gap between health challenges such as childhood obesity and access to resources that can rectify those health problems for children, especially from a walking and bicycling to school perspective.

I look forward to providing future updates about our National Partnership "systems", especially COGIS and our other National Learning Network resources such as a webinar series and library of resources that will be widely available through our website in late April.  Until then, I hope spring finds all of us adequately equipped with the right stuff to travel safely to work, school, sports and in life in general. And, honestly, an extra jacket never hurts.