Katie is a Safe Routes to School instructor with Bicycle Colorado. Bicycle Colorado is one of the leaders in Colorado supporting schools with getting kids on bikes. Please help Bicycle Colorado out this Saturday by attending they annual Celebration Gala
303Cycling recently caught up with Katie Macarelli, aka Cranky Mommys, in her role as a Safe Routes to School instructor with Bicycle Colorado. We were fortunate enough to see Katie in action at her own children's school, co-leading the two-day curriculum for first through sixth graders in their P.E. classes. It was a true joy to see Katie engaging children to get excited about riding bikes with her obvious enthusiasm for bicycling, high energy, and wildly funny sense of humor. With Katie's background as a classroom teacher, it was obvious she knows how to engage kids and we were excited to learn more from Katie...
[303Cycling:] Your program consists of one day indoors talking about safety, the rules of the road, and reasons to ride and the second day takes place outside on the bike rodeo course. What are your strategies for keeping kids engaged during the indoor talking time and focused during the outdoor time on the bikes?
[Katie:] Hmmmm. Excellent question. For the inside portion, I'd say I finally get to put my CU Theater Degree to work! Kidding. Teaching for me has always been a fun way to interact with kids. I'm kind of a spaz. I am not above acting silly to get kids engaged. My team-mates and I try to use a lot of humor, visual and auditory aides. We toss around an inflatable globe, let the kids squeeze the "ahhh-ooooga bike horn" and we try to use a LOT of volunteers.
We're lucky that we get to do the classes within PE class by class and not one big MASS school assembly. We've done big groups in the gym with kids in the bleachers and it's just not as fun or personal. I try to learn the kids' names quickly and use them. That goes a long ways with kids. But ask Julia or Brian, my co-instructors, I don't always get the names right. If you hear me say, "Oooh! What a neat name! Can you spell that for me?" I probably didn't catch it the first three times the child said it.
For the outside portion, we try to let the bikes do the talking. Kids are pretty engaged when they come out and see our blacktop transformed into a "Rodeo". Pretty bikes lined up all in a row is a lovely sight to see. One of us usually "narrates the course" while the other teammate rides it. We sometimes fight for the job of the rider. I also like to pull out my Target dollar bin microphone when I'm narrating. It cracks the kids up. Usually nature or man is our biggest enemy in holding their attention. We once had a freak lightning/hail storm during an after school rodeo in Adams 12. Or the time that black-ice had somehow developed DURING the day on the playground during a cold February day. Or a helicopter hovering, or the inevitable city worker who HAS to mow and blow leaves right on the border to the playground while we are explaining the course.
We're pretty good at adapting and rolling with it.
[303Cycling:] What is the biggest obstacle to getting kids to ride to school?
Katie showing kids how it's done.
[Katie:] Parents. Hands down, parents. If I had a penny (heck, even an old-fashioned hay-penny) for every time I hear a parent say, "It's way too dangerous" or "We just don't have time"...well, let's just say I'd be riding a nicer bike. A much nicer bike.
My advice to parents: let your kids be kids and stop over-scheduling your family. Having good old fashioned family time and exercise outdoors usually costs less and is infinitely less stressful than a plethora of "extra-curricular activities".
[303Cycling:] What do you find is the most important thing kids need to learn from your program?
[Katie:] Hmmm. Tough questions, Amy. TOUGH!!! I'll bet if you asked everyone from our team, you'd get different answers. For me, the safety is important. I try to touch on the things that have nearly caused accidents (or death and destruction) with my own two daughters. And to inform kids that we aren't necessarily concerned about their skills, but more about things out of their control. No one wakes up and says, "Today is a great day to get hit by a car," or "I can't wait for that dog to run right out in front of me!".
But for me, the MOST important thing would be how biking, being outdoors and OUT OF THE CAR can really be FUN. FUN. I think the present generation of little kids simply just don't know this because they haven't been given the opportunity.
Sometimes I really hit below the belt and tell urge the kids to "ask their Daddy or Mommy to ride bikes more with them so they can spend more time together." This actually works! At one school we had a misty-eyed dad come up and say, "My daughter asked me to ride bikes with her so we could spend more time together. How could I say no? And I have to admit that it takes us less time to get here now, than it did by car. I never would have thought that. And I HAVE enjoyed spending more time with her!" Bonus.
[303Cycling:] What's been your biggest success story with your program? Where did you have the most impact?
Some of the Bicycle Colorado bikes they use.
[Katie:] Again, we'd probably all have different success stories. On the individual side of things, I remember two.
At one school we had a girl with MS bring her adaptive bike and do the course. Her mom was so happy because they had this great bike but rarely had the opportunity to use it like that. Apparently people often BOX her in at the parking lots and don't leave room for the ramp to unfold. FOR SHAME. But more importantly the little girl got to show off her mad-biking skills in front of her class.
The other was a chubby 6th grade girl that learned to ride without training wheels with her whole class cheering her on. It was a life-changing moment for her. I could tell. I was a 6th grade chubby girl. :)
[303Cycling:] Your school district charges kids to ride the bus, how do you think this policy affects your SRTS program.
[Katie:] Ahhhhh, yes. In Jeffco, last we suffered immense budget cuts. This was the first year that buses were cut aside from families who live over one mile from the school. These families had to pay $200 per child to ride the bus for the year. So it's gone both ways. Some families that live a mile or closer actually have taken it upon themselves to bike and walk more. But other's have the attitude of "Well, I guess now we HAVE to drive". Bike cages have more bikes in them, but we still see a sick amount of cars in schools where it's simply NOT necessary.
[303Cycling:] How can 303 readers get more information about bringing the Bicycle Colorado SRTS program to their school?
All it takes is one parent to show interest!! We are awfully convincing and make the process really easy. Seamless, in fact!!! I would say, go to our website, www.bicyclecolorado.org and contact Jenna Berman. She's our Education Director. They could email me as well, I can point them in the right direction, but I'm mostly the hired muscle and the Clown.