Through the Healthy Works initiative, the SANDAG regional SchoolPool program was able to grow and expand during the 2011-12 school year. Previously only a ridematching service for parents interested in carpooling, the expansion added walking and biking to its list of transportation options. It also promoted physical activity and healthier lifestyles for students.
The new service helps parents create walking school buses and bike buddy groups to travel back and forth to school together. Bike buddies are groups of students who ride bicycles to school together with adult/parent leaders. A walking school bus is a group of children walking together with one or more adults. Walking school buses or bike buddies can be as informal as two families taking turns biking or
walking with their children to school, or as structured as establishing a route, a timetable, and a group of parent volunteers.
Since launching the new features, the SchoolPool program has grown from 39 schools in 2010-11 to 68 schools in 2011-12. The number of families registered has more than tripled with nearly 1,000 families interested in sharing the ride—the most the program has ever seen.
“Our goal is to give the region choices,” SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos said. “This program makes it easier for parents and children to make healthy choices, while at the same time saving money, cutting traffic congestion, and helping the environment.”
To help feature walking and biking and the newly expanded program, SchoolPool launched a campaign known as the Walk, Ride, and Roll to School campaign. It aimed to increase the number of children walking and biking to school, to raise awareness of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and to help combat childhood obesity, all while improving pedestrian and bicycle safety as well as air quality. This also included a month-long challenge that invited schools to compete to have the most students walk or bike during October 2011. The winning schools received up to $1,000 in school supplies. Of the 22 schools that registered for this campaign, 19 of the schools were new to the SchoolPool program.
The Walk, Ride, and Roll campaign kicked off in conjunction with International Walk to School Day on October 5, 2011. Locally, the SANDAG Board of Directors made its first-ever regional resolution to honor Walk & Bike to School Day. In the following weeks, nine other cities in the county followed with individual proclamations. On Walk & Bike to School Day itself, more than 5,600 students from the 22 area schools participated.
Finally, to help promote safety, SchoolPool offered free safety and education courses taught by the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition. Bike and pedestrian safety trading cards for students were also created in English and Spanish. Families that registered for the program could also request free bike helmets, reflective backpacks, brightly colored baseball caps, and parent safety vests.
"The safety courses and materials like the bicycle helmets and backpacks really made a difference for our families,” Chollas-Mead Principal Julia Bridi-Freel said. “They encouraged and motivated our families to walk and bike safely to and from campus while also reminding families to take the Walk, Ride, and Roll to School Challenge."
By Goldin Ortiz, SANDAG SchoolPool Program Manager