With the arrival of spring comes the request from kids who want to either walk, skate or ride their bikes to school.  For many parents, that’s a scary thing. So, this is a good opportunity for PTOs and PTAs to offer parents some help in getting their kids to school safely.

Some parent groups might be interested in participating in the first National Bike to School Day on Wednesday, May 9. (May is also Bike Month.) Sponsored by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, this event will encourage children to ride bikes to school in a safe manner while still having fun with it.  The national organization, which also sponsors International Walk to School Day, an October event, said it will provide more detailed information on National Bike to School Day in early April. So, be on the lookout for news from the National Center for Safe Routes to School, and we will post an update here as well.

Another idea would be to run a bike swap program around the time of National Bike to School Day. Some groups have had big successes with these swaps and have found it is a great way to get gently used or refurbished bikes to needy kids.

One parent group that is looking forward to National Bike to School Day is the PTA of the McKinley Elementary School in Wauwatosa, Wis. Getting kids to school safely is a huge issue to this community. The town suffered two recent tragedies involving students en route to school, one of which ended in a fatality. So parents, reeling from these sad events, have wanted to do whatever they can to make it safe for kids to get to school.

Sarah Lerand, a pediatrician and parent of a McKinley student, has been working with the PTA, which now has a “Safe Routes To School’’ committee. The committee purchased flashing stop signs for crossing guards. Those cost $225 each and are well worth it, especially on dark, foggy mornings, Lerand said. The group also purchased new road signs at a cost of $300 each to alert motorists of the school crossing areas.

Lerand said the group received a grant from the National Center for Safe Routes to School, which has helped cover some of the costs of McKinley’s safe routes initiatives. But there are inexpensive things a parent group can do to help promote getting to school safely, she added.  At McKinley, the Safe Routes to School committee organized a walking school bus program, which is a very popular school program around the country. The committee bought $10 vests for parents who lead the walkers.

Also, the committee found parent volunteers to serve as “crossing guard ambassadors.” These volunteers act as the liaisons between parents and crossing guards. The idea is to give parents an effective way to voice concerns to crossing guards (and not be disruptive while the guards are working) while also giving the crossing guards an opportunity to explain their actions or respond to requests.

Lerand said these various efforts are helping to make the school area safer. “The goal of our committee has been education and increasing the number of students walking to school,’’ Lerand said.

What's more, the program has delivered other benefits. Parent volunteers have been able to connect in a new way. Plus, the kids often get to school with time to spare.

“This gives them the chance to exercise and socialize before school – this has been shown to increase a child’s capacity to learn,’’ Lerand said.

For some additional tips on on PTO programs focused on keeping kids active, check out our piece on How PTOs Can Get Kids Moving.