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Technology Inspires Kids and Strengthens Safe Routes to School Program in Davis

Case Story City of Davis

Community: Davis

Population: 65,622


The City of Davis, located in Yolo County and situated about 11 miles west of Sacramento, has adopted an  innovative system that is inspiring kids to bike and walk to school. The Active4me program, a collaborative effort among parents, advocates and city staff, tracks kids’ miles to and from school and notifies their parents via email or text that they have arrived. The program provides reassurance to concerned parents and allows families, schools and the city to track students’ transportation practices.

A student scanning station

Healthy Neighborhoods Connection

This program promotes biking and walking to school for elementary students, an important element in reducing childhood obesity. Additionally, fewer cars on the road during school drop off and pick up improve the safety of the school and neighborhood, reducing carbon emissions and making the roads safer for more families to use alternative transportation to get to school. During the 2011-2012 school year, one Davis elementary school’s program participants burned 1,090,490 calories and saved about 12 tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere.

Program Highlights

  • Collects data on how many miles students travel by foot or bike. This provides important information for schools and city staff by showing the transportation mode of local students and helping plan for future safe routes to school programs. It also allows students to quantify their efforts, which gives them a concrete sense of accomplishment.
  • Reassures parents by notifying them when their children safely arrive at school.
  • Provides incentives to participate in the program through special events and allows students to accumulate points to buy rewards and treats.

Lessons Learned

  • Kids want to bike or walk to school; parents are often the biggest barrier because of safety concerns or logistical obstacles.
  • Although the program was initiated within the community and is managed by parent volunteers, the city’s support promotes it and provides some of the funding. Having backing by the city has given legitimacy to the program and been key for program growth.
  • Using technology to benefit the program’s participants and administrators is the cornerstone of the program, but it isn’t the most important factor in the program’s success. Making the one-to-one connection with the kids in the morning and encouraging them as they scan their cards gives them an incentive for continued participation.
  • The program’s success has relied on having parents who can get things done in their children’s schools. Teachers and administrators are already overburdened.
  • Local advocacy group provided a great forum for various agencies and individuals to come together to make the program happen.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

How the Program Works

When students sign up for the program, they create a username, provide their roundtrip mileage to and from school and receive a barcoded tag to put on their backpack. Parent volunteers at the school scan the tags when the student arrives at school, and the mileage that they traveled to school by bike or foot is documented under the student’s username. The scannable card also sends an email or text message to the student’s parent to let them know that their child has made it to school. As part of the program, the PTA hosts special celebratory events for student participants and awards them points that they can redeem to get stickers or treats at these special events. The data collected by the Active4me program are useful for the school, the city or other programs who want to track the number of students who bike or walk and the distance they travel. This information allows schools to gauge the success of the program and helps the city to understand local student’s transportation choices and make decisions about future policy, program and design plans accordingly. City staff noted that these data are useful for providing information for grants or other programmatic tracking.

The students and teachers can also keep track of how many miles they are traveling by bike or foot. Knowing the miles that they have walked or biked over the course of the year can be an incentive for students to continue to participate in the program. Teachers can integrate these numbers into their curriculum in a variety of innovative ways – including calculating carbon offsets, gas saved, calories used or total distance traveled in math, geography or other lessons.

The text or email notification system gives parents the benefit of knowing that their child made it safely to school, eliminating a concern parents may have to allowing children to bike or walk to school.  Program volunteers have noted it is comforting for parents to know that their kids made it to school safely and that without this knowledge, the parent wouldn’t feel comfortable allowing their child to walk or bike to school.

A major focus of the program is celebratory events and incentives for participating students. Throughout the school year, parent volunteers have hosted various special events for program participants and other students. Some examples are:

  • Bike Blender Party: pedal-powered blenders to make smoothies
  • Bike It, Hike It, I Like It: celebrate and encourage students for biking or walking to school, a party with opportunities to use accumulated points on treats and rewards
  • Bike Rodeo: biking safety emphasized, with free helmet fittings, bike check-ups, tire pump-ups and skills courses to teach safe riding.
  • Bike to School Day: celebrate and encourage bike-riders. The superintendent participated by riding to the event to greet and congratulate the riders

Development of the Program and Collaborations

The original idea for the Active4me program came from a local web design professional and a teacher, avid bike commuters   who were looking for ways to quantify the small things that people can do daily to reduce their carbon footprint. They became interested in working with kids and schools and in using scannable card technology to track the mileage and frequency of walking or biking trips. These volunteers got involved with Davis Bicycles!, a biking advocacy group in Davis, and connected with a parent from Birch Lane Elementary who was enthusiastic about implementing a pilot project for May is Bike Month at Birch Lane in 2011. Soon after, the City of Davis Street Smart Coordinator also got involved through her participation with Davis Bicycles! and other outreach efforts.

The city wrote funding into the city’s Safe Routes to School grant to support expansion of the program. The grant funded scan kits: a backpack with a router, a laptop computer, scan tags, and a scanner, all supplies that are needed to run a scan and notify program at a school. They supplied Birch Lane with a kit and committed to supply a kit to any school in Davis that was interested in participating. In addition to the scan kits, the city supports the program by actively promoting it at school superintendent meetings and other events. City officials also have attended major bike events at Davis schools and rode their bikes to work on Bike to Work Day to show support for biking in Davis. Four other schools implemented or are implementing programs.

Funding and the Future

When the program started at Birch Lane, everything was provided by volunteers. Davis Bicycles! purchased the scanner cards, the program founders donated their technological and web support, and parent volunteers managed the program and volunteered their time every morning to scan kids in. For the 2011-2012 school year, Birch Lane PTA budgeted $100 for bike events and all other monetary and time contributions were donated. So far, costs for the programs have been minimal. Individual school PTAs will continue to decide on a yearly basis how to fund their programs and use volunteer staff to run each school program. The city’s Safe Routes to School funding will continue to support the programs through scan kits and promotion. The city held a children’s art contest with a bicycle-safety theme last year, and that the winning picture appears on the new scan cards for the 2012-2013 school year. City staff notes that there is tremendous community support for the program, the city views it as a great model for collaboration and an effective Safe Routes to School program. They hope to see it continue to grow and evolve.


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