This is the sixth posting in a series of blogs about International Walk to School Day (IWALK) events, intended to help schools, parents and volunteers organize IWALK events in October. Learn more about IWALK here.
IWALK has arrived and for many IWALK volunteers the kick-off day is just around the corner. While immediate concerns may be demanding your attention, we urge you not to overlook one final planning detail: ensuring that every participant gets counted.
It’s not as simple a task as it may seem. With bike-to-school days, you can simply count bicycles to know where you stand. For walk-to-school events, it’s easy to miss walkers or encounter other pitfalls that could dilute your count and impact the perceived value of your event.
Having a full and accurate account of your one-day event will help you tell the story and celebrate with your school community. If you are hosting “Walking Wednesdays” or the equivalent, knowing the count for each week is crucial to mark growth. If you are using punch cards all month long, a full data set is much more fun to work with than bits and pieces. Regardless of the structure of your event, having an accurate participation count will help enormously if you choose to seek funding or need to report back to current funders. Incorporating these tips on event days can help you avoid some common pitfalls:
- Have walkers sign-in as they enter the school, either on a simple sign-in sheet, or on a large piece of butcher paper so that everyone can see. You can also purchase an inexpensive hand tally counter.
- Have walkers put their names on cut-outs that you supply on an activity table at the front door. Use simple circles, foot shapes, or leaves, which can later be assembled to make a visual impact. The circles can be placed in a line to make a long centipede, for instance, or the leaves placed on a tree visual on a hallway bulletin board representing the environmental impact of not driving.
- Give a student in a walking school bus the job of writing down the number of participants and turning it in to the event coordinator. Make sure they count the students that arrive to school together, not just the ones that start with the group.
- If your school has more than one main entrance, place a counter at each door. Volunteers can stamp hands of walkers and keep tally at the same time.
- Give a small incentive for walkers, and make the instructions clear about how to earn it.
- If you use punch-cards, collect the data regularly. If you wait until the end of the month, many if not most of the students will lose or forget it. Set up tables weekly with a system to have students check in and write down their data, which you will keep. Have extra cards on hand to replace lost ones.
- If you have the cooperation of teachers, ask them to get a show of hands as they take attendance on event mornings. You can make a quick form yourself or use the official forms from the National Center for Safe Routes to School.
- If you have a welcome table, place it strategically to get the highest concentration of walkers. Do not place it in front of the bus load zone or driver drop-off area, for instance. Depending on the layout of your campus, you may bring it slightly away from the school to a walking path or sidewalk that is visible to but avoids the driving areas completely.
- If you offer incentives, do not make them so valuable that students will be tempted to bend the truth to get them.