This week, students, parents and teachers from 10 public schools across Santa Fe have participated in the district’s “Walk & Roll to School Week,” getting their mornings started by riding and strolling to class as a group.
Acequia Madre Elementary Principal Dietger De Maeseneer, tells SFR the events are an effective way to get members of the community together and active.
“I come from Tesuque, so I drive and cycle quite a ways in a lot,” Maeseneer says. “It gets you kind of invigorated and ready for the day. It’s a great way to start the day health-wise.”
Tim Rogers, Santa Fe’s Conservation Trust trail program manager and Safe Routes to School coordinator, has largely spearheaded the local movement since 2021 to encourage students to walk and bike to school using a two-year grant. He tells SFR it promotes “health, environment and economy” in the area by encouraging physical activity in students and using environmentally-friendly transportation.
“It’s a nice activity for schools to involve families in,” Rogers say. “I think the kids are psyched.”
Acequia Madre started hosting Walk & Roll events last year, after parent Nathan Lemons attended one of the rides Rogers led to Nina Otero Community School and decided he wanted Acequia Madre to get involved.
“It’s nice to have a social moment in the morning before we start our days,” Lemons tells SFR. “We’re lucky we live pretty close to the school, so my kids walk or bike basically every day. We’re hoping to keep the momentum going, since it’s kind of new for Acequia Madre.”
As for the impact on parents, he recounted a time earlier this year, when the group forgot to send out a reminder for one of the Friday Walk & Roll events where students meet at Patrick Smith Park and make their way to school.
“This parent texted one of the teachers who are involved, ‘Is it happening?’ And the teacher said it is, and she said ‘OK, good. It’s so much easier to get the kids out of bed,’” Lemons says.
Lemons says the program has yet to run year-round at Acequia Madre, and that for now, his tentative plan is to “keep going until people stop showing up.” If they keep coming, he says he is “happy to do it through the winter.”
At every Acequia Madre walk and roll event, teacher Victoria Montoya leads the way for the students, and guidance counselor Valentina Watson keeps an eye out for students from behind. On Friday, she wore a dayglow vest and rode a bicycle as she chatted with the last parent and student in the group.
“I’m all about safety and making sure the kids don’t feel left behind, so I stay in the rear,” Watson says. “It’s fun to watch everybody from the rear and make sure everybody’s enjoying [themselves] and being safe.”
Watson joined the Walk & Roll events last year after hearing about it from Rogers, as her husband volunteers with him on trail projects with the Trust.
“The energy is vibrant, they’re happy. It’s a good way to start a Friday morning,” Watson says. “They’re just all smiles, and really eager to join in the walk. It’s super energizing.”
Watson has been promoting the Walk & Roll events to students during weekly classroom visits where she conducts social-emotional lessons.
“I make sure that I remind them to join us on Fridays, so we’re getting more and more numbers because the word is out that we’re biking, walking or strolling to school,” she says.
For Maeseneer, also known as “Dr. D” by most students and staff, seeing these events come together is like being back home.
“I was born in Belgium, where everybody cycles, so it’s just kind of in my nature to cycle,” Maeseneer says.
In addition to supporting schools in organizing weekly events, the Safe Routes to School program has offered Santa Fe Public Schools a variety of bicycling and walking education curricula since summer 2021, teaching students traffic sign recognition, head/helmet safety, cycling lessons and “how to be visible” to motorists.
Additionally, some schools have “bike fleets,” which allow schools to provide more intensive education and training, including a three-to-four-day curriculum where students navigate a course featuring common traffic signs and signals, and learn to practice maneuvering bikes around and over obstacles. Students who attend Walk & Roll events receive reflective gear to increase visibility on their routes to school, including wristbands, ankle bands and shoelaces.
Organizers also plan to tackle city infrastructure by pushing for more accessible sidewalks, bike lanes, marked crosswalks, multi-use trails, pavement markings, warning lights and signage to increase Santa Fe’s overall walkability. These needs are especially important on the Southside, where sidewalks and crosswalks don’t always connect between students’ homes and their schools.
Rogers led students to Ramirez Thomas Elementary School at an event Friday morning.
“There’s hundreds of kids at Ramirez Thomas who live close enough to walk to school, so we’ve wanted to work with them from the beginning,” Rogers says. “From last spring to this fall, our numbers have doubled.”
On Tuesday, Rogers led a smaller group of students to Ortiz Middle School at a Walk & Roll event. After it ended, a teacher told him, “when the kids came to school, they were beaming,” he said.
Acequia Madre has also made concerted efforts to educate its students about bike safety, including in an after-school bike club the school held last year. At this morning’s event, about 20 students and 22 parents arrived at Patrick Smith Park for the commute, along with city Councilors Mike Garcia and Carol Romero-Wirth.
“It was a pretty good turnout, given that our school has 164 students, currently,” Maeseneer says.
From September 2021 to June, Safe Routes to School walked or cycled with more than 3,000 students according to a report they conducted of all Walk & Roll events between Summer 2021 and Summer 2023.
The Outdoor Equity Grant from the state Outdoor Recreation Division will fund the program through the end of this year, and in 2024, SFPS will take over the program with new federal funding.
“We will stay involved, but starting in January, the Safe Routes to School Coordinator will be an SFPS staff person,” Rogers says.
This Sunday, those interested in helping those who don’t have a bike participate in Walk & Roll events can look out for Free Bikes 4 Kidz’ Used Bike Collection Day, where anyone can donate old bikes to be refurbished and given to underprivileged kids in the area at either the Century Bank on St. Michael’s Drive or the Santa Fe Place Mall (inside, next to the Boot Barn) from 11 am to 2 pm. More information is available at fb4knm.org.