Trailnet Champion: Jeff Powell
Jeff Powell has been teaching kids about active transportation for 31 years. Jeff supports Walk/Bike to School days at Fairway Elementary School. Trailnet introduced the Walking School Bus to Fairway Elementary more than 10 years ago and worked with Jeff to help hundreds of kids walk and bike to school, teeing them up for a lifetime of active transportation. Alongside being a P.E. Teacher, Jeff also teaches mountain biking summer camps. Keep reading for a Q & A with Jeff about all his awesome work!
“Being an elementary PE teacher is my passion. Teaching kids to ride is just another avenue to share this passion.”
How did you become connected with Trailnet?
It was way back in 2004 when our school, Fairway Elementary, had just opened. I met Mandy Brady from Trailnet and learned about the program. Since Fairway Elementary was built in the middle of several neighborhoods, it was the perfect opportunity to teach the kids and families safe routes to school. I talked one of the PTO reps into being the school’s parent/teacher liaison for the event. Her name is Rebecca Timm and she worked wonders helping get other parents involved. Conveniently, Rebecca is also my sister. She had two kids of her own attending Fairway at the time, easy pickings. Trailnet was able to provide many suggestions, guidelines for the Walking School Bus Champions, and gave us connections to get our school moving forward safely. On October 7, 2005 we held the first Walk/Bike to School Day at Fairway. It still exists through our PTO. The first three years had unexpected attendance, 82%, 89%, and 92%! We still average about 90% each year.
What work have you done, or are currently doing, to advance walking and biking in St. Louis?
As a teacher, I support our PTO by promoting the school’s Walk/Bike to School Day each year in all of our PE classes. Along with this day, we teach street/neighborhood safety as part of our school’s Health curriculum. This includes walking and biking on the sidewalks, traveling in groups, obeying all traffic signs, stranger safety, and using your senses to be aware of your surroundings. To encourage the kids to ride and walk to school, I too frequently ride my bike to school since I lived in the same neighborhood. They get a kick of how I push a button, the doors open, and I ride down the hall right to the gym office.
Here in St. Louis I am a member of GORC, Gateway Off-Road Cyclists. Through them I found the chance to support their trail work as they “contribute a great deal of experience in designing safe, sustainable, multi-use trails.”
Can you tell us about your involvement in Bike Camps?
The first mountain club I sponsored was in 1991 at Parkway West High School. It was called the Parkway Wheels West mountain bike club as we were supported by the Wheels West bicycle shop. We would do rides together and it enabled the high schoolers a chance to try cross country mountain bike racing. In 1995, we took our first guys trip to Crested Butte Colorado. I’m still friends with several of them to this day. I have been teaching kids to mountain bike for well over 11 years starting with the district’s Community Education program. Being an elementary PE teacher is my passion. Teaching kids to ride is just another avenue to share this passion. The interest in this type of class has grown immensely over the years beyond that one annual summer camp. What started with three elementary kids and one PE teacher has become Wheels UP, LLC. Now with Cody Jones, we have instructed hundreds of young riders to discover the pure joy of mountain biking. Over the past 2 years this has come to include adults of all ages too. Our Youth camps are tailored out of the foundation of BICP based skills and lessons. We specifically cater our lessons to be safe while pushing skill progressions to help each rider achieve the soundest fundamental riding base. We offer different level rides to accommodate from a 1st time off-road rider to an experienced advanced skill clinics. We ride bikes, have a blast, learn bike-handling skills, and most importantly learn to be safe on a bike. You can find out more at WheelsUpmtb.com or follow us on Facebook.
Can you tell us about the Walking School Bus and the PTO at your school?
We call it “Walk/Bike to School Day.” Each year, our PTO sets this up as an all school function. It normally occurs on or near the International Walk to School date. As the flyer reads, “The idea is for students, parents, and friends to walk to school together with a purpose – to promote health, safety, physical activity and concern for the environment!” We also organize a BikeTrain to show how to safely ride bicycles to school. We PE teachers meet the kids and parents to lead them in a really long Bike Train of 30-60 participants.
What do you see as some of St. Louis’ biggest barriers to safer walking and biking?
Having a safe space to ride our bikes without interfering with others or having them risk our safety. We can work past these barriers by educating local communities on safety from both the cyclist’s and driver’s perspectives.
Do you have a preferred form of active transportation (biking, walking, transit, etc)?
I ride my bike to school most days. Mainly because it energizes me in a positive direction each day.
What keeps you at it?
Easy, my students. On the way to school I ride past five bus stops which gives us a chance to smile, say hi, and sometimes ride together.
In your opinion, what makes a city or region thrive?
The ability to find a common thread in the community. Find that common factor, finance it, build it, and they will come out to enjoy it. Kind of like that saying, if you build it, they will come.
What do you do for fun?
For fun? Easy answer, ride my bikes and teach kids. Mainly I stick to mountain biking here in Wildwood all year round. When we have a snow day at school it’s a play day for me and my Fat Bike. I really like going on bike trips to Colorado each summer with my buddies and more recently monthly trips to Northwest Arkansas. When the trails are wet riding the roads of Wildwood and hiking are the go to alternatives. When the weather gets warmer, I like to share the fun by leading weekly rides with kids through Wheels UP.
What do you do for work?
I teach Physical Education and Health in the Rockwood School District. This is my 27th year in the Rockwood School District, and 31st year in Education.
Any final thoughts or words?
Finding ways to get our kids outside and moving is critical to helping them become healthy, successful adults. The habits they develop now can and will lead them in a direction conducive to a happy life. Play Hard, Play Often, Be Happy.