In late fall of 2017, Ever Active Schools began its work with the community advocacy group, Achieving Community Together (ACT), and Parkland School Division (PSD) 70 on an active school travel initiative. The primary goal of this type of project is to increase the number of students choosing active transportation modes (walking and wheeling) for their school journey.
Ever Active Schools coordinates the Active School Travel (AST) project for PSD 70 schools, Ecole Broxton Park and Stony Plain Central School. However, projects like AST also involve many community partners, including:
- school communities, administrators, staff, parents, and students,
- peace officers who educate students about safe pedestrian and cyclist behaviour and enforce proper behaviour when needed,
- municipal traffic engineers who address infrastructure concerns in the community and school division, and
- facilities departments that support similar work on school grounds.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg.
At each school, we work with students, staff, administrators, and parents to remove barriers and increase access to safe, active travel for students and families. Travelling actively benefits us and our school environments profoundly as it improves physical, mental, and social health and reduces traffic congestion which equates to safer, healthier school zones for all.
Active School Travel fuses together two approaches, Comprehensive School Health and School Travel Planning. With this in mind, we mould students, school staff, and parents into change-makers in their school communities. As part of the process, schools collect baseline data to identify barriers to active, safe travel for school families. This baseline data then informs the school’s action plan. These action items are built around the 6 Es of School Travel Planning: Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement, Evaluation, and Equity. After the action plan has been created, schools simply implement their plan. Follow up data is collected at project’s end to evaluate the project’s effectiveness. Most schools see an increase of 5-7% in active travel once an AST project has been implemented.
For example, during traffic observations, Ecole Broxton Park (EBP) students identified some traffic issues in their school zone which were creating unsafe conditions for their fellow students:
- perceived speeding along McLeod Avenue at the front of the school,
- a gap in the school fence along McLeod Avenue which invited pedestrian traffic into the busy staff parking lot and school bus drop off area,
- an understated and underused crosswalk through the school’s Hug and Go, and
- frequent instances of poor driver behaviour in the school’s parking lot and Hug and Go areas.
Students presented their findings to representatives from Parkland School Division, the City of Spruce Grove, Ever Active Schools, and the PSD Board of Trustees. As a reward for their efforts, changes were made.
The students also created a traffic safety video for use in their own school community.
Barriers to Overcome
The main barrier to engaging in any new initiative is resistance to change and addressing the fears around that. Once everyone in the school community understands that projects like active school travel change their communities for the better, they are very supportive. It’s also understanding that active school travel is not an all or nothing venture. There’s always room for compromise. Even if a family was to change its travel modes one day a week, the benefits to them and their community are significant.
In addition to that, the students involved in the EBP project learned that success comes gradually. Even though they earned so many “wins” to date, they continue their work to see upgrades to the crosswalk through their Hug and Go area.
A Successful Program
This project provided students with a platform to become change-makers in their school communities. Not only were they involved from the start with baseline data collection and the identification of barriers to active travel, they identified solutions and worked to see them to fruition. Our success in these two schools garnered interest in AST from other PSD schools and, as behaviour change is at the core of AST’s success, the more students and families travel actively, the more it becomes the norm.
The School Travel Planning toolkit is easy to use, even by students as young as 9 years old, but it’s the drive of the school and its champions to make change that is the key to success. Active School Travel initiatives provide students with a rich educational experience but they are also fun and engaging.
What gets measured gets managed.
- Peter Drucker
Change-making takes work and the ability to follow the proper process. During this project, students learned how to make change in their community - the right way! They also learned that not every request gets approved. Sometimes the answer is “no”, at which point, true change-makers return to the table to come up with new solutions.
More schools in PSD are asking to implement AST projects; more students and families are choosing to travel actively to and from school.