Walking [and Biking] with Students in Memphis: Commute Options Schools Highlights from Spring 2024


This blog is authored by Nikki Dildine, Commute Options Schools Manager for Innovate Memphis

Now that the 2023-2024 school year has come to a close, we’d like to reflect on the exciting work we accomplished with our Commute Options partner schools this spring. Commute Options involves deep collaboration with educators, local government, and many community partners to bring education, outreach and recreation programming to area schools about alternative modes of transportation. It has been encouraging to see so many people come together to help us promote walking and biking to school. As we have learned, it takes the power of the community to make sure students are excited, safe, and using alternative modes of transportation that not only improve air quality and physical health but can also ensure transportation is not a barrier to getting to school to learn every day.

This spring, we continued our work with Coach Kyle Kuusisto, PE teacher at Maxine Smith STEAM Academy. “Coach K” is an avid cyclist who acquired a fleet of bikes from the Memphis-Shelby County Schools district. We partnered with Revolutions Bike Co-op to help assemble those bikes, and we will also be working with them this summer to maintain and repair the rest of the fleet so they are ready to roll when school starts again in August. In Coach K’s PE class, students learn all the basics they need to ride safely. They also learn the importance of keeping our bodies active and the ease with which cycling can be incorporated into our daily routines.

Maxine Smith STEAM Academy also participated in the National Bike & Roll to School Day in May. Although we woke up to a tornado watch on the official Bike to School Day on May 8th, we were able to reschedule the event the following week. Students and teachers who joined us started their day with a beautiful ride down the Greater Memphis Greenline, which sure beats sitting in a car during rush hour traffic!

Another project we piloted was our STEM Traffic Garden curriculum with 5th grade students at Sea Isle Elementary. Traffic gardens are mini streetscapes where students can safely navigate and learn the rules of the road. Through these lessons, we taught students about bike and pedestrian safety, the impact of our commute choices on air quality, and how to plan and build their own traffic gardens. For our last visit, we chalked out our own temporary traffic gardens and students got to practice navigating four-way stops as drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. We look forward to continuing this work next year and remain on the lookout for opportunities to install permanent traffic gardens across our community for all to explore and enjoy. Given that traffic safety is usually the top barrier parents mention when considering whether to let their children walk or bike to school, our Traffic Garden program helps instill the rules of the road for more students to try out these alternative modes of commuting safely.

One of our most exciting projects this spring was starting a Walking School Bus with Treadwell Elementary and Middle Schools. A walking school bus is a group of supervised students walking to and from school on a predetermined route with stops along the way. This can be an excellent way to make sure students outside of school bus zones can get to campus safely while creating positive peer pressure so that more students are excited about getting to school with their friends and community every day. We officially launched in March 2024 with three different routes, each led by a community or parent volunteer. Thanks to the help of Treadwell’s Community School Coordinator, Marva Phillip Hunte, and our dedicated volunteers, we were able to run our Walking School Bus routes each Tuesday morning for the remainder of the school year. We’ll be starting back in full force the first week of school and plan to recruit more walkers and volunteers so we can offer more routes with increased frequency.

We’re grateful to all the hardworking educators who helped make the Commute Options Schools program a success this year. We will be spending our summer planning for the next school year and partnering with local agencies to bring summer Commute Options programing to communities. We’re so excited to see what next year has in store, and we’re looking forward to hitting the ground running in August. It’ll be here before we know it!

If you know of a school or student-focused program that may be interested in becoming a Commute Options partner, email Nikki Dildine at ndildine@innovatememphis.com for more information.

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