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It’s Time To Ride…to School

August 5, 2010

It’s almost that time of year again. Some of you will have kids returning to school and others will be dropping yours off for the first time. I fall into the latter group. My son Josh is attending kindergarten this year, and when asked if he was excited about school his response was:

“I am excited because my Dad and I get to ride our bikes to school.”

For kids, nothing comes close to the enjoyment of riding a bike, something many of us don’t remember until we begin riding again as adults.  The freedom that those two wheels provide is something that we can hold onto for a lifetime. A few years ago I facilitated a focus group where we asked the question, “What word would you use to describe your bicycling experience?” Over three quarters of the group responded “freedom.”

What a great opportunity to share this experience with your children. I once worked at a martial arts school that provided after school pick up and it always amazed me how many cars where present. The pick up line was down the block and around the corner. That’s a lot of cars spewing out exhaust. When I was kid you either took the bus, walked or rode your bike. This school year our challenge to you is to trade at least two car drop off days for bike ride days every week.

Did you know that 15% of children age 6 to 19 are considered at-risk for becoming overweight? And more than 10% of children between 2 and 5 are overweight, double the proportion since 1980.

Earlier this year Patsy Sommer Elementary in Round Rock became the first school in Central Texas to join a unique bike to school program called Boltage.  Boltage provides students with a little extra incentive to ride to school through prizes and a little friendly competition.

Leslie Luciano, our Advocacy Director, was quoted in an interview with KVUE at the Boltage launch.

“It is really an epidemic of inactivity, kids need an hour a day minimum and they do not get that in PE.”

The “Boltage meter” is a solar powered RFID reader that sits atop a pole just outside the school. Equipped with a small magnetic strip on their helmets, as students arrive by bike they ride under the meter and it counts their trip to school. “It gets 100% of its power from the solar panel which recharges the battery, then the computer talks to the Internet and uploads the data wirelessly to the schools internet connection,” said Tim Carlin, the Executive Director of Boltage.

Once the trip has been counted the student can log on to the Boltage website to check their progress. Michael Hoffa, a student at the school, said he likes the program because he can challenge his friends. In a generation where most children may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents and 1 in 3 children will develop type 2 diabetes, it’s time we got out of the car and out of the drop off line.

I recently heard a story about a school that invited John Burke, president of Trek, to become principal for a day. He agreed, but under one condition. No one was allowed to drive to school that day. They had to walk or ride their bikes. The school agreed and on the morning of John Burke’s assignment the principal noted that he does not ever remember a time when the voices of his students and their parents did not have the loud hum of cars as a backdrop, and that the parents and students were actually mingling with each other instead of rushing off in their cars.  The community was meeting each other.

People fear change. The unknown is uncomfortable and poses questions that we can’t always answer immediately. Going into the Boltage launch we knew that the biggest hurdle we would face would be the parents buy in. I checked in with Robert Betts, a parent at Patsy Sommer, to see how things where going.

Robert has played a key role in the success of this program, championing it early on. The difference between last year [before the Boltage program] and this year was significant. We’ve probably seen a 4x increase in kids cycling to school as a result of the Boltage program” stated Robert. While Boltage provides incentives to the students by offering prizes (provided by supporting sponsors and PTA funds) Patsy Sommer has supported the program by integrating it into their PE and Health programs. Bicycle safety and awareness classes are taught in PE while students learn about the physical benefits cycling offers them in health class. Robert and 2 other families co-op trips to school with their kids so that one parent rides with 5 kids. “They even ride in the rain” said Robert.

There are three more schools scheduled to launch Boltage programs over the next year. For more information about Boltage and how your school can participate, please view the Boltage presentation or contact Leslie Luciano.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2010 2:24 am

    Great article and thanks for encouraging the kids AND their parents to pedal their way to school! I am the Program Coordinator for Austin Safe Routes to School and our goal is to increase the number and safety of kids biking and walking to school in Austin. We love partnering with Bicycle Sport Shop for many of our school biking activities, thanks to Leslie and Mike and Dylan and Marshall and everyone for their support! – Kristi Stillwell

    • August 12, 2010 1:37 am

      Kristi, Thank you so much for chiming in. We really enjoy working with you as well.

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