For the last five years, Von Smith has served as Froebel Literacy Academy’s Family and Community Specialist, a role that he views as a “privilege and responsibility.” His position involves encouraging parental involvement, improving student attendance and achievement, and developing relationships with community groups and agencies.
Mr. Smith, crossing guard Wendy Campbell, and Trailnet staff member Ginny McDonald celebrate Froebel Walk to School Day, Halloween 2015
Mr. Smith is energetic and inventive in his efforts to develop partnerships between the school, its families, and its community. The most satisfying part of his job, he says, is “reaching out to parents in an effort to ensure students’ academic success.” His efforts to engage parents and families include “steak and egg breakfasts” for men in the community, using the school as a safe site for Halloween trick or treating, and starting a chess club for Froebel students.
Several years ago, Mr. Smith organized a Leadership Development Program for third through fifth grade students. Participants are selected by their classroom teachers and focus on four goals: improving communication skills, learning to collaborate, becoming better decision-makers, and volunteering in their community. Mr. Smith recruits a variety of community organizations to work with his Leadership students, and cites these efforts to make “lasting partnerships with the community” as another part of his job that he especially enjoys.
As one of the partners involved in the Leadership Program, Trailnet has worked with the students to disseminate information about pedestrian safety and to provide ways that students can act as advocates for their community.
Alderman Spencer speaks to Leadership students and Mr. Smith.
Highlights of last year’s program included enlisting Leadership students as volunteers during a traffic calming demonstration in the neighborhood, and a visit by alderman Cara Spencer. Students had the opportunity to ask questions of Ms. Spencer and to relay their concerns about neighborhood safety. One outcome of this exchange has been a commitment from Alderman Spencer to set aside funds for crosswalk improvements around the school.
For Mr. Smith, the chance to meet with an elected official was an exciting opportunity for his young students. “It was more than we could have hoped for…to give these young leaders a chance to speak directly with their alderman,” he said.
Beginning this week, Trailnet will launch a “Pace Car Program” at the school. Students will collaborate in writing a Pace Car pledge and recruit parents and staff members as Pace Car drivers. The Pace Cars will model safe driving behaviors for other motorists in the area, obeying all traffic signs and regulations. Mr. Smith has approached this new program with his typical enthusiasm. “It will be a great way to get parents involved, and maybe even other schools – this will make the whole community safer for everyone.”
Trailnet will also work with MoDOT and Froebel’s physical education staff to offer the first Bike Week at the school this fall. Students will learn about bike safety and get a chance to try out their bike handling skills.
Many of us at Trailnet have had the pleasure of working with Mr. Smith over the years. His interactions with his students are inspiring; he never misses a chance to take an ordinary exchange and turn it into a teachable moment. He is always receptive to novel ideas, and willing to do whatever it takes to provide new opportunities for the students. He displays a deep and genuine concern for his students and their families. One issue that he particularly worries about is the amount of violence in the neighborhood. Our hope is that programs that put more people out on the streets, walking, biking and looking out for each other will make the neighborhood safer for everyone.
Mapping out a bright future for students in Dutchtown
Trailnet has collaborated with Froebel Literacy Academy in Dutchtown for several years, delivering programs focused on encouraging active lifestyles, improving safety for students walking to and from school, and presenting opportunities for community advocacy.
Selected by their classroom teachers, Froebel’s Leadership Development students are third through fifth graders that meet once a week to concentrate on communication, collaboration and decision-making abilities. Trailnet’s Walk Ambassadors Program provides these students with an ideal platform to hone these skills in fun and creative ways, while teaching the kids about pedestrian safety.
In this year’s program, students learned about the structure of government, from the U.S. president to city alderman. After discussing some of the improvements that they would like to see in their neighborhood, the leadership students met with their 20th Ward alderman, Cara Spencer. The group had a lively discussion with Ms. Spencer about their concerns and their hopes for ways in which citizens and government officials can work together to make change happen.
Students also practiced map-reading skills by plotting the safest walking route to a friend’s birthday party on a map peppered with hazards ranging from closed sidewalks to distracted drivers. In keeping with Froebel’s emphasis on literacy, the students wrote out directions to their party, including risks that a pedestrian should watch for en route, and safety features such as crosswalks that would make the trip safer and more pleasant.
Having written careful instructions for the safest way to get to their destination, the students embellished their writing by adding other elements that a traveler could encounter along the way. Their walking chronicles expanded to include aliens, UFOs, circus animals, and even surprises found on the sidewalk like discarded dollar bills, brightly wrapped mystery gifts, or bakeries filled with goodies. The students did a masterful job of weaving these new elements into their stories, which they read aloud to their classmates. The listening skills of the audience were tested, as students were asked to list the new features that had been added to the narratives. One of the stories brought the program to a tidy close by including Cara Spencer’s donation of a birthday gift to the party.
Trailnet is grateful to the Saigh and Trio Foundations for funding Walk Ambassadors in Dutchtown and to Alderman Spencer for her generous and genuine interest in her young constituents. Special thanks to Mr. Von Smith, Froebel’s Family and Community Specialist, for his tireless dedication, and to the inspiring students at Froebel, who are mapping out a bright future for themselves through their hard work and enthusiasm.
Alderman visits Froebel Elementary’s Walk Ambassadors
The goals of Trailnet’s Walk Ambassadors Program are to teach elementary school students about the benefits of active living, safe pedestrian behaviors, and ways in which kids can advocate for making their communities better places for walking. Students in the Leadership Development Program at Froebel Literacy Academy have participated in the program for several years.
20th Ward Alderman Cara Spencer paid a visit to the Leadership students on December 3 and got to hear about what the students liked and what they would like to change about their community. Each student also had an opportunity to ask a question of their alderman.
Some of the things that the students liked about their neighborhood included: “my school, my friends, the crossing guard, the stores, the parks, I can walk to places…” The students’ concerns about where they lived ranged from high rates of violence and drug use to the presence of abandoned buildings and trash on the streets to noisy neighbors and “pooping” dogs and cats.
The students’ most poignant questions stemmed from their concerns about neighborhood safety. Spencer’s answers were thoughtful and honest and led to interesting exchanges with her young constituents. In response to a student asking “why people kill other people,” Spencer acknowledged the many factors that can lead to violence and the inability to know exactly what drives people to carry out these acts. A leadership student offered the idea that “they want something that the other person has.”
Students concerned about litter in the neighborhood were assured that more trash containers would be installed and that Spencer was planning a clean-up day that she hoped would include the students’ participation.
When asked if she “would give a homeless person a hundred dollars,” Alderman Spencer described some of the many services that are available to the homeless in St. Louis and admitted the scope of the problem by saying that she could not afford to give money to all those experiencing homelessness.
More lighthearded questions included “what did you eat for Thanksgiving?” Answer: “everything.” And “what kind of car do you drive?” Answer: “a square one.”
Spencer also defined her motivation to seek political office in response to the question “what does an alderman do?” Answer: “An alderman works to make a community a better place to live.”
Froebel Literacy Academy and Trailnet are grateful to Spencer for taking time to talk with the Leadership students. Her visit made quite an impression on the students, as evidenced by some of the comments in their thank you notes to the alderman:
“Thanks for making Ward 20 a safer and better place for young and old people to live.”
A brisk, sunny Friday morning was a perfect day to walk to school and get a jump start on celebrating Halloween. Kids warmed up with hot chocolate and received “blinkies” to light up their walks.
Froebel Literacy Academy in Dutchtown has partnered with Trailnet for several years, working to make students and community members more aware of pedestrian safety and the benefits of an active lifestyle. Family and Community Specialist Von Smith welcomes students each morning and crossing guard Wendy Campbell helps to ensure the kids’ safety during busy arrival and dismissal times.
Froebel Literacy Academy Spring Field Day
A rainy day did not dampen students’ enthusiasm for the May 20 Field Day at Froebel Literacy Academy in the Dutchtown neighborhood. Children ranging from pre-school through fifth grade participated in a variety of activities coordinated by school staff and community partners, including Trailnet.
Students and teachers enjoyed smoothies produced by Trailnet’s pedal-powered “bike blender.” One after another the kids lined up, taking turns spinning their legs to swirl the fresh fruit and juices. Even those with legs too short to reach the pedals eagerly mounted the bicycle while Trailnet staff helped out by manually turning the cranks.
Waves of children rotated through a circuit of activities in the building, including basketball in the gym and scooter races in the hallways. Trailnet offered a version of musical chairs that involved student leaders parading through traffic cones and leading buddies through a “crosswalk” set up in the cafeteria. Each student received a poem stressing the importance of “using your head before your feet” while walking in the neighborhood. The poems were entered into raffles for sunglasses, flashing safety lights, and “footie” bracelets.
Trailnet has partnered with Froebel for the past two years, organizing a variety of activities aimed at improving pedestrian safety around the school. These activities have included Walk to School Days, an after school “Walk Ambassadors” program for Froebel’s Leadership students, and surveys soliciting parent input about transportation in the neighborhood.
Trailnet also recently completed a traffic study of the area surrounding the school in order to outline recommendations for infrastructure and behavioral changes that will improve pedestrian safety. One issue cited by the traffic study was the lack of a crosswalk and stop sign at the school’s front entrance where many parents drop off and pick up their children.
Before leaving, Trailnet presented the school with a portable stop sign, safety cones, reflective vests and hand-held stop signs. This equipment will be used to improve safety at the drop-off area and by crossing guards at nearby intersections. Trailnet thanks Mr. Von Smith, Froebel’s Family and Community Specialist, and Anne Thomas, Academic Instructional Coach, for an ongoing partnership that has been highly rewarding and lots of fun. We also thank the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Dana Brown Charitable Trust, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, the Saigh Foundation and Wells Fargo Advisors for funding our work in Dutchtown.
Safe Routes to School – active living for kids
Walbridge Elementary students mark the start of their walk on a neighborhood map
Encouraging kids to get out of the family car and join their friends on a walk to school is one of the goals of Trailnet’s Safe Routes to School Program. Trailnet organized a series of Walk to School Days in the Fall, engaging nearly 2,000 children at a number of elementary schools throughout the area.
At Froebel Literacy Academy, Trailnet staff presented “Steps in the Right Direction” to the school’s Leadership Development students. This five-week program focuses on the benefits of active transportation, provides guidance on safe pedestrian behavior, and encourages the kids to advocate for a safer walking environment in their neighborhood. Student activities included a “walk about” the school to identify potential hazards to pedestrians, and Jeopardy and Bingo games to learn about pedestrian safety.
Froebel students display their pedestrian safety posters
Students in the program created posters designed to encourage their classmates to walk more and to highlight wise pedestrian decisions. As the student leaders commented, hanging the posters around the school will remind kids that “walking is good for you,” to “wear bright colors at night,” and “stop jaywalking!”
Trailnet thanks Mr. Von Smith, Froebel’s Family and Community Specialist, for his enthusiastic cooperation and tireless efforts on behalf of his students. Thanks also to school staff and parent volunteers who helped to organize Walk to School Days at participating schools. Their dedication to active living (and their willingness to provide hot coffee) inspires other families to “walk the walk.”
In 2015 we look forward to continuing our partnership with Froebel’s Leadership Academy and with the many schools with whom we have enjoyed years of collaboration. We are excited about promoting healthy, active living at two additional St. Louis Public Schools through the development of walking school bus programs, and through collaboration with other Family and Community Specialists. Together with these dedicated staff and parents, we hope to put more little boots on the ground!
Funding for the Safe Routes to School Program is provided by
Time to start walking and biking to school again
Its spring! With the warmer weather, it time for everyone to get outside. If you have kids, be sure to urge them to bike and walk to school. Take the time to walk or bike with them, or encourage them to tag along with neighbors and trusted friends. If you don’t have children, remember to be extra-vigilant and watch out for kids who are walking and biking more frequently in your neighborhood.
To help kick off the “walk and bike to school” season, Trailnet will be working with various schools throughout the region to promote Family Walk to School Days. With three events already past us this Spring, we are looking forward to the next three.
If you would like to volunteer at one of our schools, contact Ginny McDonald email@example.com.
What should I teach my child about pedestrian safety? Where can I find the best resources?
It’s important for parents to take the time to teach their children pedestrian safety. What they should be taught depends upon their age and maturity level. Every child is different, but developmentally, it can be hard for kids to judge speed and distance of cars until age 10.
The most basic pedestrian rules for kids are:
always walk on sidewalks or paths (facing traffic if possible)
cross the street only at crosswalks
understand walk signals and how to operate them
never run out into a street (even after a toy or pet) without looking both ways
understand the need to be seen by cars; wear white or other light colors when out past dusk
Trailnet works with a number of local schools teaching pedestrian and bike safety. If you are interested in having a program in your school, contact Taylor March at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not many kids at my child’s school walk or bike to school. What can I do to help increase those numbers?
Trailnet offers free workshops detailing how to increase walking and biking in your school or organization. Contact Taylor March at email@example.com for information.
There are several things you can do to help increase the number of kids walking and biking to your neighborhood school.
Talk to the principal about what the school policy is for kids walking and biking to school. Some school districts discourage children from biking and walking to school. Find out what the principal thinks and be sure to have him or her on board before proceeding.
Take the idea to the PTO, it’s always better to have support from a larger group. There may already be other people addressing the issue.
Understand the barriers that keep neighborhood kids from walking and biking. It’s always best to understand the barriers kids and parents face before beginning to encourage walking and biking.
Work with parents, community officials, neighborhood organizations and school staff to remove the barriers.
Plan fun activities that encourage kids and parents to walk and bike to school. Potential activities can range from simple encouragement, in-class announcements, letters home, contests between classes, and Family Walk to School Days.
How do I set up a Walk to School Day at my school?
Trailnet has experienced staff to help you organize and produce a Walk to School day at your school. If you would like Trailnet’s assistance, contact Taylor March at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to organize your own Walk To School Day, there are a lot of different options. It can be as simple as sending home a flyer asking parents to walk their kids to school on a specific day or as involved as turning it into an event with prizes and snacks.