Getting Started Guide
The following eight steps will take your event from an idea to a reality. This guide is intended for event organizers who like having a to-do list so that they know everything is covered. Seasoned event organizers or those who feel comfortable with a more relaxed approach may want to simply skim this information.
Step 1: Envision the Event
Having a theme for the event can help other planning decisions fall into place. What motivates the community? Is there interest in promoting physical activity? Was there a tragedy involving a walker or bicyclist? Are the students strongly motivated by concern for the environment? Understanding what inspires you, other partners, the school and broader community will help decide what your event will be like. Think about the type of event that you want to organize. Will it be a walking event, a biking event, or both? There are several ways to celebrate walking and bicycling, even if there are students who don’t live nearby. For example, a Walk or Bicycle AT School Day event might be right, rather than a Walk or Bicycle TO School Day event. Generally the most important decision that you need to make at the beginning is whether you’ll be hosting a walk/bike TO school event or a walk/bike AT school event.
Consider these four examples of events:
Example #1: Walking School Buses on Walk to School Day
Publicize the locations of Walking School Bus stops throughout the neighborhood, and designate Walk Leaders to lead each group starting at a designated time. Once the groups arrive at school, they are greeted by the principal and teachers who give out toast, jam, and coffee. The principal gives a short speech to the students and parents in an outdoor assembly to explain the environmental benefits of biking and walking, rather than driving to school.
Example #2: Remote Starting Point
A nearby church with a large parking lot is identified as a “Park and Walk” location. Parents arrive at the church at the designated time and park their cars. Buses drop off students there as well. With the help of local law enforcement, the group forms a parade, walking to school carrying signs and banners with this year’s theme. At school the mayor holds a brief press conference to talk about the need for safe walking and biking routes throughout the town.
Example #3: Bike Train Event
Students and families are encouraged to meet at a nearby neighborhood park to participate in a bike ride to school. The principal joins them, along with several dignitaries and a local athlete. Prior to the ride, helmets are checked for a proper fit and extra helmets are available for students who don’t have them. The group rides to school where they are greeted by teachers who give them t-shirts and reflective bike safety gear.
Example #4: Walk AT School Event
The event kicks off in the gymnasium with an assembly. The principal makes a pledge to get fit and challenges the students to do the same by logging all of their walking and biking activities. The principal introduces a contest between classrooms. Each class will log the number of walking and biking trips they make in a month. Students are encouraged to walk (or run) around the track or the playground during recess, and teachers reward good behavior by giving students extra walking time. The winning class receives the Golden Shoe Award.
There are tons of ways to plan an event. Remember that none of these ideas are “required” – they’re just options to get your creative juices flowing.
Consider whether you want to incorporate any of the following ideas:
- Stickers, wristbands and other incentive items: When students arrive at the school, a small reward can reinforce their efforts to get to school under their own power.
- Pre-event pedestrian and bicyclist safety: If teachers are willing, safety can be integrated to fit academic learning standards. Walk or Bicycle to School Day events can be a great way to cap off pedestrian and bicycle safety education.
- Guests: Invited guests might walk with students or speak to them when they arrive. They can serve two purposes: inspiring students and getting buy-in from local leaders. For instance, students might be excited to see members of the high school football team. A local politician might enjoy the opportunity to show support for pedestrian or bicycle improvements.
- Refreshments: A bagel, juice, fruit or another healthy snack is a nice way to greet walkers and bicyclists. A local grocery store or restaurant might be willing to donate food.
- Tips on providing refreshments: If you plan to provide refreshments on the morning of Walk and Bike to School Day, be aware of the following:
- If you are providing food, it should be healthy, and should meet your school’s rules for providing food to students.
- It can be difficult to provide food only for event participants, and not the other children who are arriving at school at the same time. If food is provided, you will probably need enough for every student, regardless of whether they walked or biked. Providing food just for adults does not work unless it is out of sight of arriving students.
Find more resources on events in Event Ideas and Downloadable Materials
Step 2: Get Buy-in From the School
School principals are key partners. It is important to get their buy-in before publicizing details and logistics of the event. Principals can be involved in many ways and can really make your event shine.
Principals have very full schedules. Here are some tips for engaging school principals:
- If you don’t already have a relationship with the principal, consider making your first contact with a staff person with whom you do have a relationship or someone who has worked on health promotions before. Examples might include the physical education teacher, school nurse or guidance counselor. PTA presidents or other active parents can also be helpful in getting an introduction to the principal.
- Try to approach the principal well in advance of the date that you want to host the event. The principal may need some convincing about the merits of the idea. When principals feel rushed, they may be less likely to endorse something new.
- Review the benefits of walking and biking to school – particularly studies that show that students who are active do better on standardized tests and these talking points.
- Have an outline and basic plan for your event so that the principal knows that details have been thought out and potential challenges have been considered. Describe plans for safety. Keep in mind that it is important to be flexible and open to new ideas. Principals will have their own concerns, so be ready to compromise, if necessary.
- It may be tough for a principal to help lead or plan an event, but he or she may be available to give a short motivational speech on the day of the event or to give safety tips during the morning announcements. Offer to outline talking points for a principal to present on the day of the event.
- Identify other schools in the school district that have already registered or have registered in the past. Your principal may want to talk to other principals who have hosted events before.
Step 3: Register Your Event
Registered events appear on the Who’s Walking or Who’s Biking page.
Click here to register now!
Registration is the only way that the event can be tracked at the national level. Being able to demonstrate participation is invaluable in showing local, state and national leaders that walking and bicycling to school are valued.
Step 4: Approach Partners and Recruit Volunteers
Build a team of people. There’s no reason to go it alone and there are likely others who want to rally together to promote walking and bicycling to school. When thinking about whom to approach, consider:
- School administrators/principals
- Law enforcement
- Crossing guards and school district transportation coordinators
- School champions
- Public officials and local government
- Health/safety/student advocacy groups
- Bicycle shop owners and bicycling advocates
Volunteers can help with event preparation and on the event date itself. You can recruit volunteers in many ways: through PTA meetings, via email or on the listserv of groups who regularly volunteer for student activities. Remember to take advantage of your local school and community newsletters. It helps to be specific about the tasks that require assistance. This allows potential volunteers to envision themselves getting involved based on their own strengths. Some people have great skills designing marketing materials. Others might love the idea of offering stickers to students and families as they arrive at the school.
Specific tasks might include:
- Design, print and distribute fliers for the event
- Contact potential speakers and help the speakers prepare for the event
- Organize student activities
- Help test walking and biking routes
- Lead walking and biking groups
- Coordinate logistics for a park-and-walk event
Step 5: Finalize Event Plans
This is when you put the pieces together and move from brainstorming to concrete action. Now is the time to follow up on tasks that were delegated in Step 3. For example, a park-and-walk event or a bicycle parade will need pre-determined walking and bicycling routes. If you are offering rewards for participants, now is the time to follow up on any ordered materials.
Tips on Finalizing Event Plans
- Decide what students and families will do when they arrive at school. Are students supposed to report to their classrooms? Are students meeting outside together? Are they meeting in one central location in the building? Where will helmets and bicycles be stored?
- If your event requires a temporary road closing, make sure to publicize this multiple ways so that the community is not only aware of when/where/how long the closure will last, but also why the event is special. Provide background about what the event means for the kids. Use local news media, listservs, signs, banners, etc.
- For any group walk or bike ride, review a short list of ground rules with the participants. This is the time to explain basic safety measures. Children especially need to be told to stay behind group leaders, along with other safety messages.
- It may be helpful to have a megaphone or other amplifier handy if there are plans to speak to a large crowd of students and their parents. Make sure at least one adult chaperone has a first aid kit.
Step 6: Promote the Event
A few weeks before the event, parents, students and the greater community should all be aware that the event is going to take place. Here’s an example of how promotion could be done:
- One to two weeks before the event: Post an announcement in the school and community newsletter. If roads will be closed temporarily for a group walk or group ride, it may be helpful to get this information out in a local news source. You can also use banners and signs along the walking/biking route to keep the community informed. Explain why your school is organizing the event and why the event is important nationwide.
- One week before the event: Send home fliers that outline event logistics. If you have multiple walking routes, show a map of the routes with meeting times along with contact information for adult walking leaders. If possible, include safety reminders such as “wear bright clothing” or “wear a helmet.” Designate a spokesperson to speak to the media. Send a media advisory to newspapers, radio and television stations that you hope will attend.
- Several days before the event: Send home educational materials for parents to review with their children.
- On the day before the event: Send a reminder home with the students. This can be a sticker, a half-sheet flier, or a postcard. Intercom announcements are a nice way to remind students and get them excited. Send out a press release to local media contacts.
- After the event: Gather information about the event. How many people participated? What media coverage did the event receive? Did someone take great photos that will be useful?
For more information on promoting your event look through the resources in Get Media Attention.
Step 7: Celebrate Walk or Bike to School Day
Best wishes for a great event! A few day-of suggestions from fellow coordinators include:
- Arrive at the meeting location 15 minutes early.
- Have a designated spokesperson to talk with media.
- Before a park-and-walk, a parade or anything else where there’s a remote group start location, give a brief overview of the event, the theme and/or why the day is special. Review any ground rules which depend on the event but might include things like staying on the sidewalk or obeying law enforcement officer instructions.
- Congratulate walkers and bicyclists.
- Thank dignitaries, sponsors, volunteers and participants in a public announcement.
- Record the number of participants.
- Take lots of photos and video.
- Have fun!
Step 8: Event Follow-up
To streamline planning for the next event you may want to:
- Save materials and keep track of contacts. Be sure to save all of the electronic files for your fliers, sticker templates, etc. in one place that is easy to find. If you plan to pass along event leadership to someone else, organizing this type of information can be particularly valuable.
- Keep track of photos and press coverage, and archive them somewhere safe and accessible if possible.
- Now is also the time to send thank you notes or emails to all volunteers and partners. You may want to send them a certificate.