Safe Routes to School Training #1: Done!

Day’s Verse:
It’s better to be wise than strong;
intelligence outranks muscle any day.

Proverbs 24:5

All right, this isn’t the world’s shortest or most creative title, but it does get the job done, and it has the added bonus of giving you a taste of what the rest of this post is going to be like: Long and workmanlike. That said, let’s dive into it.

…I started to write a post describing what happened during the training, but that’s just not compelling to me right now. Instead, here are some things that stuck out to me.

1. Running the training even with helpers is very draining (I’m letting Future Katie worry about the trainings she’s teaching by herself). The elementary and middle school PE teachers seem an awfully lot like the students they teach, probably not by coincidence, so they tended to do well with the hands-on interactive parts of the training and very quickly started getting bored and distracted during PowerPoint presentations. For example, when I told them, “It’s important to have a slight bend in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke,” they looked bored. When I had them stand up and try walking around squatting as if their knees weren’t extended while pedaling, they got it. But that kind of interaction takes serious effort and tires me out. Also, I started going into people overload by the end of the first day of training, and I needed time by myself to recharge.

2. Lynden is flat, but makes up for it by having constant, steady, strong wind. (I hear Holland is like that. Must’ve felt homey to the Dutch people who originally settled Lynden.)

3. You can tell people to bring a lunch and have their bikes checked out before the class, and they’ll all still come on Wal-Mart specials they borrowed from a friend’s garage that morning. One guy’s pedal fell off during the road ride. The ABC Quick Check doesn’t cover that! Only one of the participants rode a bike with any frequency, and many of them couldn’t remember the last time they’d been on a bike. That’s a very, very different demographic than the groups I’ve taught with Cascade for their Urban Cycling Techniques class. However, they were much more engaged and willing to participate than I expected, and overall the tone of the class felt upbeat. The students were laughing and joking, at least, and that’s always a good thing.

4. PowerPoint is boring, but good for showing pictures. Is there some other way to teach principles of traffic law besides lecturing, in the short time we have? I hope so, because I’m no lecturer and on Tuesday I’m teaching a group in Sedro-Woolley. Plus I don’t have a laptop, which makes using PowerPoint difficult.

5. Eileen did most of the teaching about the kids’ curriculum side of things, which is what the teachers were really interested in. I’m questioning whether trying to push through all the Traffic Skills 101 need-to-knows is worth it for teachers, who keep wanting to know how it relates to what they’re teaching their students. Throughout the class, we kept having to try to distinguish “This is only for adults” versus “This is something you’ll teach your kids.” It felt cumbersome, and I kind of wonder if it’s (a) worth teaching all of TS101; and (b) wise to have TS101 and the kids’ material so integrated with each other. Future Katie is going to worry about teaching teachers something she’s never actually taught to kids herself. But as somebody reminded me today: The teachers don’t know any better, right? So whatever I tell them is what they’re getting. They don’t know I don’t have 30 years of experience teaching, the way Eileen does (OK, obviously since I’m not 30 years old yet I can’t have taught for that long, but you get the point).

6. PE teachers are exceptionally good at coming up with ideas for games.

7. MORE HANDS-ON LEARNING.

8. PE teachers are also coaches, and coaches have athletic events that they have to leave for early in the afternoon. That means training scheduled to end at, say, 4:00 pm will have very few people actually still there at 4:00 pm. We had 3 of 7 people leave early the first day, and it would’ve been the same on the second day except we finished early. We’ll have to dramatically revamp the afternoon sessions so that people who have to leave early don’t miss stuff they can’t pick up later or by themselves. That’s going to be very difficult.

9. It’s impossible to remember participants’ behavior on the bike detailed enough to do an accurate assessment on the TS101 road ride rubric. So we just try to think of any egregious mistakes they made and say everything else was good. Everybody passed. In fact, we had two people who were firm “ride facing traffic” advocates to start with, and by the end they did the road ride with all the same good vehicular cycling behavior you’d hope for. It was really encouraging to see. At the very end, after everybody else left, the organizer told us something amazing: Some of the participants hadn’t talked to each other that civilly in years. The positive vibe we got during the training — that was new. One teacher had actually switched schools because of the conflict. Wow! Not only did they learn a bunch about bicycling (and pedestrian stuff too); not only did they get this kick-ass curriculum in a gorgeous shiny binder; but they also got a great positive team-building experience, too. I’m deeply grateful that the organizer told us that. It made the whole thing feel worth it.

10. I’m hungry and I have a super intense, hilly ride tomorrow. Time to eat, and then eat some more for good measure. Oh, real quick, I’ll add that I had a PT appointment focused on therapeutic massage for my back. My PT guy has a student, which is cool, but it’s a little weird to have them talking about me…while I’m laying there on the table. Reminds me of a time when I was getting fitted for my back brace and the doctor actually called his student into the room from elsewhere. He said “Wow, look at this amazing classic [whatever]! You never see this!” Also, although I’m sure they used English words it was still a completely different vocabulary, which made me feel a bit more like a specimen and less like a person. The massage was very light because anything else was fairly tender. Maybe next time will go better.

What I’m Up To

Day’s Verse:
Give yourselves to disciplined instruction;
open your ears to tested knowledge.

Proverbs 23:12

I feel that my recent work with the Bicycle Alliance needs a little bit of explaining. It’s not the kind of work I can summarize quickly in a word or phrase. Ian can say, “I’m a software engineer,” or “I’m a programmer,” and people have some idea of what he spends his days doing. My current employment situation isn’t so easy to succinctly describe. So here goes.

Before my AmeriCorps internship ended, the Bicycle Alliance started applying for grants to teach bike classes. Not just to anybody, though. With these grants, they teach bike classes based on Traffic Skills 101 to PE teachers — either elementary or middle school — as part of the Safe Routes to School program. The PE teachers would then take their new knowledge about bicycling and use it to teach a bike unit in their PE classes. This isn’t a new idea; the Bicycle Alliance did a pilot program along these lines with just a few school districts, and these grants really build on that experience.

The Bicycle Alliance received three grants along those lines, with some variations (one is for college-level instructors). After my internship ended, the Bicycle Alliance hired me and another LCI — Eileen Hyatt, the gal who originally did the pilot program — as contractors. We’ve spent from January to now working with Feet First, a pedestrian advocacy organization, to:

  • Figure out exactly what we’re going to do in this 2-day seminar — essentially create an agenda based loosely on Traffic Skills 101 that also serves as our curriculum. It’s much bigger than TS101, though; it’s TS101 plus pedestrian information plus training on how to teach the kids’ curriculum. We have 15 hours total to teach this huge volume of information to PE teachers.
  • Modify the kids’ PE curriculum to include pedestrian lessons.
  • Work with the Bicycle Alliance’s coordinators (they have 2 staff people coordinating the details of 2 of the grants. One we call the OSPI grant, the other the CPPW grant) to get details for the classes in place.

That’s what I’ve been doing so far. Now we move into the next phase, which is actually teaching the classes. This involves driving to remote areas — Lynden and Sedro-Wooley are my first two — and:

  • Scouting out around the area to find a road ride route that meets the Traffic Skills 101 requirements.
  • Marking (with paint, chalk, sponges, or 1/2 tennis balls) a bike handling skills course on the ground in the parking lot provided to us.
  • Teaching the class: 8 am to 4 pm two days in a row; Feet First is there on the first day, and then I’m on my own the second day.
  • Doing a bunch of paperwork after the class.

Since Lynden is our first-ever class, we’re going to have an abundance of teachers: Two people from Feet First, me, Eileen, and an LCI from near Lynden who we’re hoping to bring in to help teach these classes. Eileen drove all the way from Spokane for this. She’s staying with us two nights on either end of the class, and we’re staying with the LCI in Lynden tonight and tomorrow night. I think we’re all somewhat nervous; I know I am.

I have to try to learn all the stuff that relates to classroom management of elementary/middle school kids with bikes and all those detail things about actually running the class. Eileen, who was a teacher before she “retired,” has that stuff down cold. She’s been working on this program for 20 years. I, on the other hand, just came into this in September and I’ve never laid out the kids’ course, managed a class of 30 squirrely 6th graders, or tried to wrangle parent volunteers. I have a lot to learn before I can confidently go teach teachers how to do some of these things. And I have to learn it fast, because next Tuesday and Wednesday I’m teaching this same class in Sedro-Wooley, except by myself.

Between now and mid-April, I teach one class per week — each one takes 3 or 4 days, depending on the location — with one week off. For the OSPI grant alone, which runs through 2012 (assuming the world doesn’t end), the Bicycle Alliance is teaching 29 school districts throughout Washington State. We’re going to be very busy.

In addition to the LCI teaching work, the Bicycle Alliance also hired me to help co-manage the OSPI grant. That’s a fairly new addition to my plate, and I’m not 100% sure what that will pan out to look like.

So that’s what I’ve been doing and what I will be doing for the next year or so. Now I have to finish getting my supplies together for the trip to Lynden. I won’t have access to a computer between today and Thursday night (gasp!) so if you need me, please call or text my cell phone. I’ll be available evenings. Wish me luck — I sure hope it goes well!