This guest blog post was written by Celia Preble-Gaitz of Living Streets Alliance.
In its second school year as a Safe Routes to School focus school under Living Streets Alliance (LSA), Los Amigos Technology Academy in Tucson, AZ has developed a Fitness Fridays initiative that is ever growing and fueling enthusiasm for walking and biking to school. With the help of two Safe Routes to School champions, Ms. Flores (School Librarian and School Wellness Team Member) and Vanessa Cascio (LSA Community Liaison), Los Amigos has embraced a culture of health and physical activity with activities like bike rides, walks to school, and bike repair clinics. The program has benefited from support from Principal Valerie Lopez-Miranda, the rest of the school wellness team, additional school faculty, and parents. Initiatives like this become three times easier to maintain when parents and the school are on board!
As walking and biking to school grew in popularity, the school took ownership of providing and leading Fitness Fridays, where students from one nearby neighborhood bike to school in a bike train and other students, from five different walking routes, walk to meet each other to create one large walking school bus. In August of 2016, Vanessa and Celia Preble-Gaitz (SRTS Outreach Coordinator) planned and facilitated a Walking School Bus leader training for school staff and interested parents. There were 11 graduates from this skills and confidence building training including Principal Lopez-Miranda! Each Fitness Friday sees an average of more than 100 students walking or biking to school. Even with the rough, rocky sides of the road, dusty, overgrown sidewalks, and high traffic zone, the students, staff, and parents still walk to show their dedication to their health and the need for easier and safer access for a simple daily walking or biking commute to school.
Several parent leaders stated similar feelings, including, “I enjoy walking and I know it’s good for me and my kid’s health,” and “It gives me extra time to spend with my kids.” Staff at the school stated that, “It would be a great opportunity to get more city representatives out walking with the kids to see the conditions of the routes and see how useful it would be to have more needed sidewalks and shade installed.”
When October rolled around, out of 50 schools across Pima County, Los Amigos had the highest participation in the WALKtober Challenge, an annual event organized by Safe Routes to School to encourage more children to walk or bike to school across the Tucson region. With extra planning and promotion, city and county officials were invited to join the Fitness Friday that fell within WALKtober week. With over 300 students, Ms. Flores, Principal Lopez-Miranda, Los Amigos staff and parents, City of Tucson Bicycle and Pedestrian Program, Tucson Police Department and Bike Patrol, Pima County Supervisor Ramón Valadez, Pima County Sheriff, Sunnyside Unified School District, and Pima County Bike Ambassadors joined the walk to school that day and highlighted the importance and value of having alternative ways of getting to school. “It is so valuable for the kids to have time to spend outdoors and have safe, accessible ways to get around their neighborhoods,” said Ms. Flores.
Want to explore more ideas for innovative and effective bicycling programs for youth? Join our free webinar on March 29 at 2pm ET with speakers from the Living Streets Alliance, Cascade Bicycle Club, and Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. More information here.