Spreading the Magic of Walking and Biking at Ridgewood Elementary
Ridgewood Elementary School in Portland, Oregon has noticed a definite increase in walking and biking to and from school since the Fire Up Your Feet challenge and the addition of monthly walking school buses. Fire Up Your Feet provided a fun and easy way to motivate the community to add physical activity to the daily routine, starting with people taking one step and following that first step up with more. One day kids might walk to see if they can make it to school with enough time, and the next day they might ask a friend to come, and then they might discover the walking school buses.
Since March 2016, Ridgewood has made a concerted effort to get the community excited about getting active. There is a huge shift taking place. Families are doing small things that make a difference, from getting up early to meet the walking school bus, to biking to and from school every day, to creating a bike train to ride to school safely from a farther distance. Last May they usually had two bikes in the racks; this October, they routinely have 15. The entire school of 472 students, along with teachers, staff, parents, and siblings, are hooked. They have had 100 percent participation in one way or another. Their October Walk + Bike Day hosted more than 255 students (more than half of the student body), about 100+ staff, teachers, parents, siblings, school board members, and even their Congresswoman, Suzanne Bonamici.
Kristin Wesel, a Ridgewood parent advocate, shared, “One of the biggest things I see is that Fire Up Your Feet is helping people to get past obstacles; whether it is scheduling, location, or finding a safe route and teaching the kids how to get through intersections safely. Instead of allowing these obstacles to be a limitation, Fire Up Your Feet has helped us to face them head on and help our kids to do it too!”
Ridgewood Elementary gave a boost to its Safe Routes to School program last spring when one parent wanted to see what she could do to make it safer for her daughters to walk to school. She then got the principal, district liaison, several parents, teachers, and the student Green Team excited to join. From there it exploded! They have created a Safe Routes to School Plan for Ridgewood, gone to school board meetings, and several kids have spoken with the media and the mayor about increasing funding for Safe Routes to School. One International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program Exhibition Group of kids helped set up the walking school bus program for their exhibition project. The excitement has continued to grow as they have started tracking physical activity progress with beans. Each time a person walks or bikes to school or with their family, they put in a bean and they count them. They are trying to see how many times Ridgewood can make it around the world, and already have traveled more than 20,000 miles.
Parental support for Safe Routes to School and Walk + Bike can fluctuate at times causing the program to ebb and flow in visibility. Finding new people who are passionate about walking, biking, and safety well before current advocates move on from the elementary school is crucial to ensure there is a good transfer of knowledge to the new group. Word of mouth advertising and leading by action has been Ridgewood’s biggest asset. It’s amazing what one small group of passionate people can do involving their friends. So many families in the community are aware and involved now. Fire Up Your Feet has helped Ridgewood make connections and build community through their collaborative efforts to increase and support physical activity efforts.
Kristin’s favorite stories from the Fire Up Your Feet challenge stem from the joy that comes from connecting people and community through walking and biking. She said, “Fire Up Your Feet has inspired many people in different ways. Mrs. Turkington’s third grade class encouraged their teacher to let them walk the track together at every single recess so that they could get more beans! One of my favorite things though has been seeing the kids encouraging each other to walk and bike to school. Kids calling kids, parents calling parents, and all of us inviting each other to safely walk and bike to school together. We are stretching ourselves and getting active one step at a time.”