Sat10252014

News

Back to the future: Walk or Wheel empowers students

Photo Courtesy Of Margie Suozzo

Christian Foley, fifth grader at Gardner Bullis School, biked to his first day of school. The GreenTown WoW program seeks to increase the number of students biking and walking to school by 20 percent this school year.

It’s a sparkling September morning in Los Altos and children are streaming into school, chattering with their friends. Bikes of every color, size and style fill the racks. No idling cars spew exhaust fumes in the drop-off lane, no stressed-out parents sit behind steering wheels – just children biking or walking to school.

This may seem like an idyllic scene from the past, but it’s the future vision of Michael McTighe, chairman of GreenTown Los Altos’ Walk or Wheel (WoW) program.

“In addition to reducing carbon emissions and vehicle miles traveled, our primary goal this year is increasing the number of students who walk or ride to school by 20 percent,” McTighe said.

WoW evolved from the Freiker (short for “frequent biker”) program launched by Jon Simms at Almond School two years ago. GreenTown partnered with Simms to expand Freiker to Egan Junior High and Santa Rita and Springer schools. More than 1,000 students took part during the program’s initial years.

This month, GreenTown, school PTAs and parent volunteers will extend the program to include the other five schools in the Los Altos School District, as well as 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 RFID tags, walk or wheel under the Zap, the device beeps, recording students’ unique numbers in their personal accounts. In early September, WoW will establish a baseline of the number of students traveling 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,” said Michelle Le, whose son attends Egan. “He has developed confidence and a real sense of responsibility to the group of friends he rides with.”

Peg Champion is principal of Champion Organic Communications, focusing on communication and education strategies for sustainable behavior, and a GreenTown member.

For more information, visit www.greentownlosaltos.org.

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