Getting Started Guide
The following nine 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: Form a Team
The most impactful events come from different voices and experiences joining together to achieve a shared goal. The event organizer doesn’t need to have all the answers. Forming a strong, inclusive core community advisory team can make for a lighter workload and more impactful event. Including people with a wide range of lived experiences and knowledge of the event planning process can add tremendous value to the event and create broad community buy-in – different perspectives can help shape the goals of an event, point out problem areas that a single organizer might not be aware of, and foster a spirit of communication and collaboration that can build communities up in a deeply meaningful way. A strong team will help see the plan from start to finish, bring a variety of exciting ideas to the table, and help ensure that all members of the school community are engaged on the day of the event.
When thinking about whom to approach, consider:
- School administrators/principals
- Community organizers or leaders
- Crossing guards or school district transportation coordinators
- School champions
- Public officials and local government
- Youth leadership groups
- Health or safety advocacy groups
- Bicycle shop owners and bicycling advocates
Step 2: 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? Is there a way to strengthen the connection between families and the school? Understanding what inspires you, other partners, the school, and broader community should help guide event planning. Think about whether it makes sense to focus on walking, biking, rolling or all three. There are several ways to celebrate walking and rolling, even for students who don’t live nearby. For example, a Walk, Bike or Roll AT School Day event might be right, rather than a Walk, Bike & Roll TO School Day event, or a combination of the two that maximizes the ability for all students to participate.
Consider these four examples of events:
Example #1: Walking School Buses on Walk & Roll 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. Teachers and the principal are there to greet the groups once they arrive at school. The principal gives a short speech to the students and parents in an outdoor assembly to explain the benefits of active trips 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 safety advocacy groups, the school-bound team forms a parade, walking to school carrying signs and banners with the year’s theme. At school, the mayor or community leader can hold a brief press conference to talk about the need for safe walking routes throughout the town. Keep in mind that a large group walking to school together might require traffic control. The community advisory team should consider different safety groups that could support the event in this way.
Example #3: Bike Train Event
Students and families meet at a nearby location 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 cheering volunteers.
Example #4: Walk, Bike & Roll AT School Event
The event kicks off in the gymnasium with an assembly. The principal challenges the students to log all of their walking and rolling activities. The principal introduces a contest between classrooms. Each class will log the number of walking and rolling trips they make in a month. Students are encouraged to walk or roll around the track or the playground during recess, and teachers reward good behavior by giving students extra time. The winning class receives the Golden Shoe Award.
There are many ways to plan a successful event. Remember that none of these ideas are “required” – they’re just options to get your planning group’s 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, Bike or Roll to School Day events can be a great way to cap off pedestrian and bicycle safety education.
- Guests: Invited guests might walk or roll 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.
- Find more resources on events in Event Ideas and Downloadable Materials
Step 3: 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 busy 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 rolling 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 and be ready to talk about how all students can participate. For example, how will students with health or mobility needs be included? What about bus riders? Children and families who speak languages other than English? Principals will have their own concerns, so be flexible.
- It may be tough for a principal to help lead or plan an event, but they 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.
- Ask about any rules regarding photo and video.
- 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 4: Register Your Event
Registered events appear on the Who’s Walking & Rolling or Who’s Biking & Rolling pages. Now is the time to register your event!
Registration is the only way that the event can be tracked at the national level and shows local, state, and national leaders that walking and rolling to school are valued.
Step 5: Recruit Volunteers
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. Also consider those who do not regularly volunteer. Is there another way that you can get their input so they feel welcome at the event?
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 or translating 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 rolling groups
- Coordinate logistics for a park-and-walk event
Step 6: 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 5. For example, a park-and-walk event or a bicycle parade will need pre-determined walking and bicycling routes and may need considerations for traffic control. 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 the closure multiple ways so that the community is not only aware of when/where/how long it will last, but also why the event is special. Provide background about what the event means for students. Use local news media, listservs, signs, banners, etc. If the closure requires law enforcement presence, discuss with the planning team whether any families may feel uncomfortable with this presence and brainstorm solutions.
- 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. Remind students to stay behind group leaders, along with other safety messages about the route.
- 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 7: 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. Consider translating the materials into languages used in your community – all children should have the opportunity to share in the fun! 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/rolling 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.
- Send home educational materials for parents to review with their children.
- 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.
For more information on promoting your event look through the resources in Get Media Attention.
Step 8: Celebrate Walk, Bike & Roll 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 safety instructions.
- Congratulate walkers and rollers.
- Thank dignitaries, sponsors, volunteers, participants, and your community advisory team in a public announcement.
- Record the number of participants.
- Take photos and video (in accordance with guidance from the principal OR “school guidance”).
- Have fun!
Step 9: 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 electronic files of 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, archiving them somewhere safe and accessible.
- Celebrate your successes! Send thank you notes or emails to your community advisors, volunteers, and partners. You may even have the resources to plan for other incentives, such as certificates.
- Share photos with the school to keep the enthusiasm going.
- With your team or partners at the school, this may be a time to explore how students could walk or roll to school regularly by starting up ongoing program.
- Gather feedback from the advisory group, volunteers, and school staff. How many people participated? What media coverage did the event receive? What worked well? What would you like to do differently next time?
- Now is also the time to keep the creativity going – who do you wish had been involved that wasn’t involved in this event? How could you include them in the next one? Who could support the advisory team’s efforts to facilitate that involvement? Walk, Bike & Roll to School Day events wouldn’t be the same without the value added by vibrant communities where every child has the opportunity for a safe walk or roll to school, no matter where they live, work, or play.