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A bicycle commuter who rides four miles to work, five days a week, avoids 2,000 miles of driving and about 2,000 pounds of CO2 emissions each year.

Advocates fight for bike/walk education in schools

Would you like to see your local schools teach walking and biking safety to kids? With your help, we can make that happen.

Last year, thanks to the efforts of Active Trans and our partners, a law was passed requiring that K-8 public schools teach walking and biking safety to students.

Now we’re working with advocates in communities across the Chicago region to help implement the Illinois Bike Walk Education in Schools Act and encourage districts to comply with the new requirement.

Talk to school leaders

To accomplish this, we’re calling on residents in the suburbs to meet with their school district leaders to build awareness and help ensure walking and biking education is incorporated into curriculum of their schools.

Arming our children with safety skills is necessary. Nearly five children are hit by people driving every day in Illinois while walking or biking within one block of school.

We’ve heard from 30 advocates representing 18 school districts who have already reached out directly to their local school districts. Responses from schools have varied with several advocates reporting promising results.

Advocates can share with their local schools this list of free biking and walking safety curriculum resources. Already, the Illinois Association of School Boards has shared this resource with all public school districts.

In the west suburban city of Batavia, for example, schools have been very receptive. Advocates have been working closely with school administrators, PE teachers and parent teacher organizations (PTOs) to incorporate several recommended resources into their curriculum for the 2019-20 school year.

This receptivity may be in part due to long-standing relationships advocates have built with school staff. For the last three years, the Batavia Bicycle Commission has been teaching bike education to every 3rd grader at six schools and has also helped organize community bike rodeos, bike helmet giveaways and bike-to-school-day events.

Patience and persistence

In Chicago, Active Trans is working with community partners and Chicago Public Schools curriculum staff to develop a policy to meet the requirement and encourage the school board to adopt it.

In other communities around the region, advocates who have reached out to their school districts are either waiting for a response or waiting for administrators to set up a meeting and review the suggested educational resources.

An advocate from the northwest suburbs says patience and persistence is key. “I got an initial response very quickly, but to actually set up a meeting, it took over a month. These administrators are busy people so I sent reminder emails to let them know I was here to help with this new mandate they have to face. Patience is part of the process.”

If you’d like to get involved in your community, here are five initial steps you can take:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the new law — watch our webinar and check out the toolkit to review details of the bill and the educational resources available to schools.
  2. Sign up to be a school liaison — check if there’s anyone else in your community who is also signed-up and connect with them.
  3. Reach out to your school district superintendent to find out what would be helpful
    • Ask if school board is aware of new law and if they’ve voted to adopt it yet.
    • Let them know you have recommended educational resources you can share.
    • Ask about scheduling a time to present to the school board or meet with school administrators.
  4. Meet with appropriate school administrators and/or make a presentation to your school board
    • Schedule a sit-down meeting with appropriate school district administrators or groups (e.g., director of curriculum).
    • Give a 3 to 5 minute presentation to the school board using the Powerpoint template and script in the toolkit.
  5. Follow-up with school about progress.

By learning about walking and biking safety in schools, children will be safer while using streets and sidewalks. These skills promote healthy lifestyles and provide students with important life skills that can be used throughout their lives.

If you’d like to get involved advocating for walking and biking safety for kids and become a school liaison, please reach out to Maggie Melin at maggie@activetrans.org or call 312-216-0475.