Another Week, Another Training (Auburn)

Day’s Verse:
What advantage does man have in all his work
Which he does under the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes,
But the earth remains forever.

Ecclesiastes 1:3-4

Cue week three of one training a week. This week it’s Auburn, and paid for by the Bicycle Alliance’s CPPW grant. Oh, yes, didn’t I mention that the Bike Alliance has two grants where we teach the same thing? CPPW is Communities Putting Prevention to Work, stimulus money that’s aimed at reducing obesity and smoking. It comes through the Federal government to the King County Department of Health to the Bicycle Alliance to me. Your tax dollars at work! The Bicycle Alliance’s CPPW grant is run by John Vander Sluis, a great guy and, more importantly for me, an organized guy. (Seth Schromen-Warwin, who does the OSPI grant, is also an organized guy. I have to give him credit for doing a truly amazing job. Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled blog post.) The Bike Alliance’s CPPW grant is much more than just these two classes, but this is my part in it, and it’s essentially the same thing as the OSPI class.

The difference is that, as a compromise with Cascade Bicycle Club, I have a Cascade LCI co-teaching with me, and another observer from Cascade who’s helping a bit as an LCI, too. Frankly, I’m grateful for that. First of all, teaching with Ellen Aagaard is always a delight; and second of all, I cannot begin to imagine what it’s going to be like next week in Eatonville when I have to try to do the LCI work all by myself. Fortunately, Future Katie is taking care of it, and Present Katie is getting ready for another early day driving down to Auburn to ride a bike slowly in the rain.

In the meantime, I’m overall quite pleased with how the class today went. Many of the rockier bits from last week smoothed out nicely, and not surprisingly a few new rocks cropped up. The class is engaged, sometimes a bit too chatty, but overall positive and eager, and most of all, good sports about all the biking out in drenching rain and gusting wind.

Tomorrow is the easier day, but even so, I’ll be glad to see the end of it. I’m enjoying the experience, but it’s sure exhausting.

Oh, no word yet on whether I actually have a job teaching OSPI trainings. I’m waiting with bated breath, let me assure you.

Get Out Your Tiny Violin

Day’s Verse:
Don’t brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow; you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.
Proverbs 27:1

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: My Bicycle Alliance teaching job may be going away very soon. Bluntly put, I may be losing my teaching job because of some federal requirements for major construction projects.

Now the explanation, which is exceptionally convoluted, so bear with me. The funding for the OSPI grant I’m doing for the Bicycle Alliance comes from the federal government, the US Department of Transportation. It’s the same money that pays for major capital improvements — big road projects. Our project doesn’t involve building roads, of course, but it’s transportation money nonetheless. That means all the rules that apply to those major road projects also apply to our little $250,000 bicycle grant. Specifically, one rule says that essentially all steel used in the project must be American-made steel; the rule says that of $1,000,000 spent, only $2,500 can go to non-American steel.

In our grant, we do use some of the money to purchase things that are metal: Bikes and trailers to move and store the bikes in. Any parts of those bikes and trailers that are steel therefore must be American steel. There is a Washington trailer maker who can certify all their steel as 100% American, so that’s OK, although we can’t actually recommend just that trailer company, since federal rules also require putting the project out to bid. Of course, that trailer company is the only one that meets all the criteria, so it’s an easy choice.

Unfortunately, there’s no such easy choice for the bikes. We’re recommending aluminum bikes (made in China, probably, since American-made bikes are too expensive), but even aluminum-frame bikes have steel components like derailleurs and chains (Worksman Bicycles is 100% American, but their bikes weigh 70 lbs and are intended for industrial use, certainly not for 5th through 8th grade kids). It’s literally impossible to obtain bicycles under $400 or bicycle parts like that that are made in the US; it just isn’t done. Unfortunately, those parts add up to well over $2,500 for all the bikes that we’re talking about buying. The grant specifies 25 bicycles each for at least 25 school districts, but many districts are purchasing 30 or 35 bikes because of larger class sizes. That’s a minimum of 625 bicycles, and if each bike had $50 worth of non-American steel parts, we’re looking at $31,250 in chains, derailleurs, etc. that are non-American steel.

The bottom line is that we cannot obtain bikes with 100% American-made steel parts. Because of this, there is a hold on all bicycle purchases for this grant. No school districts who signed on with this grant are getting bikes any time soon. There is the possibility of obtaining a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration, but it takes anywhere from 90 days to years to obtain the waiver.

And that means that none of the teachers in those districts need training until the bike situation is sorted out. No point in training teachers now if they won’t be getting bikes for 3 months — or for years down the road. And that means that I, as trainer, am looking mighty superfluous right about now. The higher-up people are meeting on Wednesday to hash out possible solutions, ways to find other money sources, or who knows what. I’m already starting to think about what I might do when that doesn’t work out and our grant gets bogged down in Bureaucracy Land, waiting for approval on the waiver.

I think I hear that $4,750 of AmeriCorps educational stipend whispering to me. Bike touring through Europe is educational, right?

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!

Train the Trainer #1: Canceled

Day’s Verse:
The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.
Proverbs 10:19

After all the preparation and buildup, the class I was supposed to teach — officially called the Train the Trainer for the Safe Routes to School Bicycle & Pedestrian Skills Education program — got called off due to inclement weather. It was a double-whammy: Lots of snow falling and expected to fall in Snoqualmie Pass, and snow/rain, near-freezing temperatures, and high winds expected in Mattawa for the foreseeable future. (Which isn’t very far, when it comes to weather.)

I feel conflicted about this: On the one hand, it’s a reprieve, and it didn’t force me to try to tackle the extremely uncomfortable (to me) prospect of go over the pass while it’s snowing. For all we lived in Massachusetts for 7 years, I never drove in the snow and I’m as bad a snow driver as the next Washingtonian. The shape of my week has dramatically changed, since I’d written off Sunday through Tuesday for the training, and planned to spend Wednesday in Seattle at meetings. Now I have “free” time for those days, although I have other BAW contract work I have to deal with, so it’s not really free. I did get to go to church today, a nice surprise.

On the other hand, I wanted to get the first training out of the way, since I know that once I’ve done a few, I’ll feel much more confident conducting the trainings in the future. I had the car packed and my materials ready to go; the coordinator had hotel rooms reserved, the teachers had subs lined up, the district had a room and all the materials other we needed. We had a meeting scheduled on Wednesday with WSDOT and OSPI to debrief how the training went. All that is out the window now. I’d really like to fast-forward to, oh, mid-April. By then I’ll have taught enough of these to have it be routine (I say with great confidence now).

In any case, I spent today going to church, then going for a rainy hike around St. Edwards with Dad, then taking a hot soaky bath to defrost. Now I think it’s time to make some macaroni and cheese for dinner. Tonight is “eat food your spouse doesn’t like night” at our house. Ian bought flank steak for his dinner, planning on my being in Ellensburg tonight, and even if he had enough to share, I admit the prospect of bloody meat still turns my stomach. Ian, on the other hand, feels ambivalent about macaroni and cheese. This is our perfect opportunity! He’ll eat bloody meat and I’ll eat cheesy carbs and we’ll both be happy.

I hope tomorrow is a nice day. I’m ready for a nice long bike ride.

Teaching Anxiety

Day’s Verse:
This third I will put into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’

Zechariah 13:9

Things are getting busy around here. My days of quiet down time are rapidly coming to a close as the Bicycle Alliance’s teaching grants really get underway. It’s looking like I’ll spend March through May intensively teaching bike classes to PE teachers — probably one class a week, which is a lot. Each class is 15 hours, and most of them will be in remote school districts way out in eastern Washington. I’ll be spending a fair amount of time on “business trips” for the Bike Alliance, spending a couple nights in places like Okanogan as I teach the two-day class. I’m not wild about this, but it’s only for a couple months. Most of all I’m actually nervous about teaching the classes. I’ve taught Traffic Skills 101 before, and feel moderately comfortable about that. But this class adds a whole different dynamic: The kids’ bike skills curriculum. We’re training PE teachers to teach a bike unit in their classes, and that bike unit is something I’ve never actually implemented myself. Back in September I spent a week in Spokane observing and assisting a PE teacher as she did the unit. But that’s very different from having done it myself. I’m no PE teacher, and I’m concerned that my being a bike person and not a PE teacher will undermine my credibility among my PE teacher students.

Well. Time will tell. Now I go get my hair cut (oh boy!), then spend the rest of the day in a whirlwind of Bike Alliance meetings, and end with hosting a book group at our house this evening. Gotta run!