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“Student Involvement is the Way to Go”

Grade 4 student leaders hosting an event day table

FAST (Facilitate Active School Travel) is Urbanthinkers’ guided approach to reducing vehicle-trips to school. It's based on authentic youth engagement to recruit, train and support a small team of student leaders to promote walking and cycling at their school.

One pilot project* ran only from April through to June but had a goal to reduce vehicle-trips to school by at least 20% in four elementary schools. The key objective was to set a foundation for student engagement and then support these teams of six to ten young leaders in hosting a spring campaign to increase in walking trips to school.

The number of students being driven to school

dropped by up to 78% on Walk to School Event days.

The results were impressive because the student leaders quickly embedded their goals within the school culture. The number of students being driven to school dropped by up to 78% on Walk to School Event days. But, more importantly, follow-up data on random days measured vehicle-trip reductions from 16% to 52% - even when measured the following school year after program support had ended.

bar graph comparing the various modes of school travel on event and random days
School Commuting Modes comparison at BW Elementary School
It's convinced my parents to walk more, which is more fun than driving, and it has brought out more school support. Lauren – age 10

These successes stemmed from a collaborative approach to engage student leaders as young as Gr. 4. Activities and walking promotion centred on a social marketing approach that asked families to choose at least one day each week when they would NOT bring their car to school.

I think having student involvement is the way to go.

Brenda, Participating Elementary School Principal

I do believe that a small committed group of students can impact the cultural norms of a community. The key is in providing that group with leadership and social significance. Rob, Participating Elementary School Principal

*Despite these indicators of success, the overwhelming approval and endorsement from participating principals and the enthusiasm and abilities of the student leaders, these findings were not made public at the time. The unnamed municipality that funded this pilot project, did not want to receive requests from other schools for expansion into a budget area they felt was the realm of the school district.

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