Can you tell us about your connection to the Longfellow Elementary School Walking School Bus?
My connection to the Longfellow Walking School Bus goes back to when Jacquie Zapata-Chavez decided to start one at Longfellow in 2008. I have stayed connected in the years as leadership has passed to other dedicated parents. Now, with both of my children at Longfellow, I have come full circle and am co-leading the walking school bus with a long-time walking school bus parent, Gladys Juarez. The Longfellow Walking School Bus and “Walk to Win Wednesdays” played an important role in anchoring the launch of our San Francisco Safe Routes to School Progam. I believe this is due to strong relationships between supportive school administration, teachers, and dedicated parents who took on leadership to serve their children’s health and create positive change in their community. That is to say that it is unique, and yet it is like many other Safe Routes to School stories.
In 2008, the year before our SF Safe Routes Partnership group was able to officially start the SF Safe Routes program, I was working on a project to increase safety in the school drop off and pick up zones at 11 schools, including at Longfellow. The Principal, Ms. Matsuno found a savvy, funny, and charismatic incoming Kindergarten parent to coordinate the program. Her name was Jacquie Zapata-Chavez. Jacquie worked at the airport doing customer service and showed up to the school zone with a high visibility vest, air traffic control wands (fancy flashlights for directing airplane traffic), and an infectious sense of humor. Instantly the school drop off and pick up zone ran much better. With regular contact with other parents, Jacquie built relationships and gained trust. Before long parents started helping out. Then, though her own initiative Jacquie completed the “National Center for Safe Routes to School Walking School Bus Online Leader Training.” My jaw dropped when I learned that and formed into a smile when she told me she was interested in starting one at Longfellow. If we could start a Walking School Bus, then parents could walk in together or leave their children with trustworthy adults to walk in a supervised group to school. It would set a precedent at the school and offer an alternative to driving that would reduce dangerous car traffic, pollution, and provide children exercise to get their brains ready to learn, all before the school day started. Working with Principal Matsuno and a particular 2nd-grade teacher that I had met a year prior (we are married now) we taught two pedestrian safety lessons that I adapted from my previous work with the Marin Safe Routes to School Program. With Jacquie and her roommate Philip supporting the lessons, the classes served as our first Walking School Bus leader training in November of 2008. After a couple of unsuccessful starts over the next few months Jacquie, with Philip’s help, launched the first Longfellow “Walk to Win Wednesdays” event on Weds, February 18th, 2009 with about 30 participants. I cheered and took photos like the one below.
Two months later, in honor of Earth Day in April of 2009, Jacquie decided to do add a street cleanup to the Walk. It was a brilliant idea. Children could take direct action to address the litter on Mission Street and possibly they might not be a prone to litter themselves.
I continued to visit and support Longfellow regularly and in May of the 2009, our Safe Routes to School Partnership group launched the first SF Bike to School Day. Along with Longfellow teachers, staff, and parents, I led the Longfellow ride to school.
Here is a video from the event. I’m in it along with that wonderful teacher I mentioned earlier.
The next school year we officially started SF Safe Routes and chose to spotlight Longfellow for International Walk and Roll to School Day, our big opening event. “Walk to Win Wednesdays” was in the spotlight and we were fortunate enough to get John Hamilton and Streetfilms to document it.
After Jacquie left Longfellow, the walking school bus continued on with different parent leaders and students helping out. Brenda, Laura, and then Josh Block who attended Longfellow as a student himself led the effort. Josh served on the PTA and led the Walking School Bus for 4 solid, long, and sometimes lonely years. When there was no one else to do the work, Josh figured out a way to pull through for the children and the school, rain or shine. Here is a picture of Josh leading the Walking School Bus in 2018.
I left my role with Safe Routes in 2013 and soon began learning about biking to school with children of my own as a stay at home Dad. As a part of the Longfellow community, I stayed connected and joined the walking school bus as a parent when my son Kadean started attending the Walking School Bus in Kindergarten. Soon we added the street cleanup to the walk. Josh took attendance to figure out which classroom had the most walkers and would win the weekly Golden Shoe award or earn a smoothie party. He gave out participation stickers, healthy snacks, and raffle tickets for the monthly scooter giveaway. I got off easy with doing the street cleanup with some help. Kadean is in the pictures above hauling the trash pickers (compliments of the SF Giant Sweep Program) in his bike trailer.
Josh and his child moved onto middle school at the end of last school year (June of 2019).
This school year 2019-2020, longtime walking school bus parent Gladys Juarez agreed to lead the walk with me. Gladys took care of the walk details and I took care of the street cleanup. Together we awarded the Golden Shoe each week.
SF Giant Sweep and the Dept of Public Works did the Valentine’s Day video below about our Walking School Bus with my daughter Kalia (Kindergarten) and my son Kadean (3rd grade). Gladys is in the video along with Longfellow parents and a teacher.
Being a part of the Longfellow Walking School Bus has been a wonderful journey with great people and I know that we have made a difference, together.
If you would like to start one at your school in San Francisco visit sfsaferoutes.org. If you are outside of San Francisco visit the Safe Routes National Partnership to find resources, guides, and more.
8/5/20 COVID-19 Update:
As I’m updating this now, we are currently out of school due to COVID-19, however, the physical activity, positive socialization, and meaningful connection with adults that come from Safe Routes to School programming is even more relevant. Focusing on those 3 elements enabled my 2 young children to better adapt to remote learning under our Shelter In Place orders. The difference was noticeable on the days when they were able to get physical activity, positive socialization, and meaningful connection compared to the more difficult days when they could not. I believe that without attending to these 3 areas, remote learning would not have been possible. To say it differently, these 3 areas are what make remote learning feasible, not the other way around. I believe that because Safe Routes to School is focused on these areas in addition to connecting communities to their city and community partners, that Safe Routes to School Programs have a crucial role to play as we roll into the 2020-2021 school year.
And, what is Jacquie Zapata-Chavez doing these days?
Jacquie is currently our SF Unified School District Safe Routes to School Coordinator, an active community leader in the Excelsior/Outer Mission, and serves our districtwide PTA in a leadership capacity. During the spring of 2020, under COVID-19, she was distributing meals to Longfellow families twice a week. Go Jacquie!