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.”
“I want to be like you when I grow up.”
“I hope we did not make you tired.”
“You R the greatest.”
Our first Bakeries on the Rise bicycle tour–a sweet success
On June 21, Trailnet hosted our first ever bicycle-powered bakery tour, “Bakeries on the Rise.” The day was slightly overcast, offering a reprieve from the hot summer sun, with a slight breeze all morning. Conditions were prime for a ride– and 94 people (!) of all ages came out for this 8-mile South City ride.
We began our quest for pastries at Whisk: A Sustainable Bake Shop. Owner and baker extraordinaire Kaylen Wissinger offered up some cookie samples, as well as a little history on her Cherokee Street storefront. We then made our way through Dutchtown, across Grand, and into the South Town neighborhood to visit the Companion Earlybird Outlet. Only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, this hidden gem is a great place for anyone on a budget who wants top-notch breads and pastries. From here we crested a great BIG hill (whew!) into the Tower Grove South neighborhood and then turned into Tower Grove East, where we visited the brand new Grove East Provisions and Red Fox Baking and Catering. Proprietor Barry Kinder told us all about the process behind building a wood-fired brick oven, and how Red Fox and Grove East Provisions came to enter a neighborhood cornershop partnership. Our final stop took us back to Cherokee Street, where we paid a visit to Black Bear Bakery, which is operated as a cooperative establishment.
Many riders said that we visited places they had either never heard of, or had been meaning to try for some time. We saw bike baskets and panniers filled with loaves of bread, bagels, and sweets to take home, and heard plenty of riders saying they will be back to visit these local businesses again soon!
Thank you to Great Rivers Greenway District and Enterprise Holdings Foundation who provided funding for this ride, and to everyone who came out, supported local business, and learned some new bicycling routes through the city. Special thanks also to the participating bakeries who welcomed our riders with great service and plenty of delicious treats to choose from. Life is sweet when you’re two-wheeled in St. Louis!