Friday, February 24, 2012

FABB's Jeff Anderson profiled in VDOT SRTS newsletter

Jeff Anderson
Jeff Anderson has been organizing bike trains at Wolftrap Elementary School for several years. Wolfie's Bike Train runs several times a year. Jeff has also been instrumental this year in working with FABB, WABA, Trails for Youth and others to encourage Fairfax County Public Schools to get more involved in the Safe Routes to School Program.

Jeff is profiled in the latest edition of the Virginia Safe Routes to School Winter Newsletter. As you can see from the photo on the right that Jeff is also a cyclocross racer, but we won't hold that against him. Here's the interview from the newsletter:
Friends and Faces

Jeff Anderson is a parent of three children, all of whom bike to school at Wolftrap Elementary School in Vienna. Jeff spearheads the school's Safe Routes to School program, and as his photo shows, is a cyclocross racer in the mid-Atlantic region.

How did you get involved in SRTS?
It was by accident, really. My wife, kids and I are great bike enthusiasts. So when my oldest child started first grade at Wolftrap Elementary School, biking to school was a given. The only glitch was that the school lacked a bike rack. Two weeks after asking the principal about it, the rack appeared! Shortly after that I started a bike train, comprised mostly of my daughter's friends and some neighborhood kids. The bike train now operates monthly over a nearly 2-mile route.

I wasn't totally unaware of SRTS at the time, so I talked with someone at another school about their SRTS program. That got things started for me and now I understand what the states' SRTS program is and how the program can help Wolftrap. I work with the school's PTA to promote SRTS. The PTA is very supportive and is an outlet to the school community about SRTS events and activities.

Other than enjoying biking, why is SRTS important to you?
I am committed to getting more students to walk and bike to school as a way to reduce the number of cars around the school during arrival and dismissal. All three of my children are at Wolftrap - in 5th, 3rd and 1st grade - so I'm in it for the long haul and believe that by the time my 1st grader leaves Wolftrap, things will be very different. My vision is for 20 or more bikes in the racks most days. We now have two racks, but we'll need a third with that many kids biking to school. And, I would like to see kiss and ride used as a convenience, not as the main mechanism for kids getting to school. This would greatly reduce the 90-100 cars using Wolftrap's Kiss & Ride each school day.

Is the school principal supportive?
Because principals have a lot of decision-making power, they can often influence decisions parents make about how their kids get to school.Our school principal has been great. She really understands SRTS and supports the program. Most importantly, she trusts parents to do the right thing in setting up and running programs and activities. This is key for SRTS successes at any school. Our principal's support for SRTS comes from her own active lifestyle. She runs marathons and is very visible about promoting health and well-being in the school. She understands the importance of educating the whole child. For example, she didn't object to the bike/walk challenge we held during SOL testing week, joining in our walking and biking to school activities.

How do the students feel about SRTS?
They love it. They get very excited about the bike and walk challenge, creating meeting points for walking and biking to school. They especially love the comraderie that comes with walking and biking to school together. Unlike the past, this initial socialization happens on the way to school, not in homeroom. Our students' enthusiasm is contagious! School board members, state delegate (Mark Keem), and a couple local professional bike racers have all joined in.

Have you applied for infrastructure funds to improve the walking and biking conditions around Wolftrap?
No, Wolftrap has good sidewalks around the school. The infrastructure is the easy stuff; county engineers know how to do this. It's the education and encouragement which is harder.

So, how have you tackled the need for education and encouragement?
We received a $2,000 grant from Prevention Connections and will host our first bike rodeo in April 2012. This is a logical growth of our past work. For example, in 2010 we held a series of events during the May National Bike to Work week, such as a bike education workshop for students and parents, and after school events with the police department. It was the second year of our Bike and Walk Challenge Week, which we have continued since its inception in 2009. I started the Bike and Walk Challenge Week with the goal of creating a friendly competition among classes at Wolftrap Elementary School and other Vienna schools to see which could get more kids to walk or bike. During the week, we challenged parents to not drive their kids to school. We counted kids walking and biking to school, and those arriving by car. As the week progressed, we reached a 50% reduction in the number of students arriving by car and about ½ the kids either walked or biked to school by the end of the week.

Who else do you work with on SRTS at the school and in the larger community?
I am really proud to say that the entire Wolftrap Community has been involved, including the PTA. PTA members help get out information about our SRTS program and actively participates. For example, PTA members count kids and cars during the challenge week. A couple of parents help - regardless if the temperature is 19 degrees or 90 degrees!

What about the school division?
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is really beginning to engage in SRTS. Working with the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB), Trails for Youth, the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA), FCPS supported International Walk to School Day in October 2011, resulting in 26 schools participating in event activities. Our goal is for 50 schools to participate in the 2012 event. Another sign of their support is a change in the criteria for the division's Golden Wellness Award. Schools apply for the award, ranking themselves in areas such as recycling and student health. In the past, the application didn't provide credit for walking and biking to school. But, we successfully lobbied for a change in the application. Now, walking and biking to school is included in language for the health and well-being awards. In addition, the FCPS School Board recently passed new school policy that puts decision-making about how children get to school firmly in the hands of parents. The policy also adds bicycling education to the existing pedestrian and bus safety education.

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