Safe Routes to School Profile – Mary Booth
As an active proponent of the After-School Bike Club at Mt Ararat Middle School for many years, Mary Booth, school health coordinator for MSAD 75 (communities of Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, and Harpswell), has championed other Safe Routes to School and Bicycle & Pedestrian Safety Education programs as well, such as doing Walkability Audits and organizing Walk to School Days. So it came as no surprise to us that the American School Health Association named Booth the 2012 School Health Coordinator of the Year at its national conference in San Antonio, Texas last month!
We wanted the BCM community-at-large to know about Mary’s recent honor, and why she chooses to embrace the activities promoted and supported by the Maine Safe Routes to School Program and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.
Recently, Maine Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program Manager, Darcy Whittemore, had a chance to talk with Mary about her work on these important and healthy programs.
Darcy: How did you become involved with Safe Routes to School?
Mary: As a School Health Coordinator, it is my role to assess various health programs, projects, and activities, and determine whether or not they are a good fit for our School District based on current student needs and integration with other health initiatives in progress. SRTS staff initially assisted our District with an audit of the communities around all our schools to determine potential expansion of walking routes to school. Upon completion of the audit, MSAD 75 was able to use models from SRTS to run a few Walking School Bus events. Because so many of our schools are not in a safe walking zone, we looked at other SRTS programs and decided to promote an After School Bike Club. In addition to increasing physical activity for our students, promotion of the Bike Club met many of our District goals. We were able to work with community volunteers from the Merrymeeting Wheelers; provide student mentors from Bowdoin College, and run the club with trained bicycle instructors from the Bike Coalition of Maine.
Darcy: Why is it important for Safe Routes to School to do what we do?
Mary: There are several dimensions to health that keep us all whole and well. Each day schools in Maine are faced with a multitude of health issues from food insecurity, bullying, substance abuse, depression, and lack of daily physical activity. As a Health Coordinator, it is important to be able to find programs such as the ones offered by SRTS that are easy to implement and help support targeted outcomes of other initiatives being conducted. In MSAD 75, we were able to implement the After School Bike Club, which provides physical activity, but also provides a mentoring component for our students.
Darcy: What is your favorite part of Safe Routes to School?
Mary: Whenever students are engaged in physical activities that they like, there is a sense of excitement and joy. I think everyone likes to “play” but for many reasons they play less and less as they grow up. All the work done behind the scene to get ready to run a successful Walking Program or Bike Club is worth it when you see the students anticipating the activity. Anxiety and stress are forgotten as students begin start walking or pedaling. It is a pleasure to watch.
Darcy: Why is the after-school bike club a valuable program? and should other schools start after-school bike clubs?
Mary: The After School Bike Club is a fun program that gets kiddos out and moving. The physical activity is incredibly valuable but the other value of the club is the educational component. Today there are many adults who do not have bike skills and allow their children to ride bikes without a helmet, on the wrong side of the road, and without the necessary knowledge to stay safe when riding near cars. With the After School Bike Clubs, students learn how to do the “ABC” bike check (air in the tires, brakes working, and chain in good condition) before they take off on any ride. They learn how to wear their helmet properly. They learn the rules of road riding so they can be safe. In my opinion, these are all skills everyone should know in the event they ride a bike.
Darcy: Why do you love to ride a bike?
Mary: I have very fond memories of being an adolescent and using my bike to get around. My parents bought me a new ten speed for my 8th grade graduation. I rode that bike everywhere – to my friend’s camps in the summer, to my first job, and eventually on long bike treks with friends to New Hampshire. Today, I still like to ride my bike with my family, although they are much faster than I am.
Darcy: What is your lifelong biking ambition?
Mary: I don’t think I have a “Bike Bucket List” but I do like visiting other places in the country that have bike paths and sightseeing along the path when possible.
Darcy: If you could ride with one person, who would it be?
Mary: My favorite bike-buddy is my husband. He is a much better rider than I am but when he rides with me he keeps my pace. When we are in areas where we can ride side by side, we are able to have nice conversations. It is great quality time together.
The Maine Department of Transportation has contracted with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine to assist in the development and implementation of its Safe Routes to School program. This federally-funded initiative works with communities statewide to encourage more children to walk and bike to school and after school activities, and to improve safety for students on their daily commute. During the past year, biking and walking activities involved more than 10,000 Maine school children in over 75 different schools.