A Drive-to-five program enables parents to drop-off and pick-up their children at predetermined locations that are approximately a five-minute walk from their school. The program can take a number of different forms, depending on the age of participating students, the walking routes available and the volunteers involved.
Parking and/or drop-off sites are identified within a five-minute walk from school on safe and attractive walking routes. Parents of younger children can walk the rest of the way to school with their children, while parents of older children can drop their children off to walk with their peers.
Drive-to-five programs allow every family – even those travelling to school from far away – to incorporate a bit of physical activity into the daily trips to and from school. They also reduce the number of motor vehicles in the school zone, decreasing congestion and improving road safety conditions for everyone.
Drive-to-five programs can be set up by a school or by parents. They are well suited for schools with large catchment areas, good transit connnectivity, or high levels of driving. They work for younger students, whose parents can take transit or park and walk with them on the last leg of the trip to school, and older students, who gain a sense of independence from walking part of the way on a safe and accessible route.
Step 1: Introduce the idea
Ask the principal or PAC to send an email or newsletter introducing the Drive-to-five concept. In crafting your communications, think of your audience: an engaged parent community may respond to a letter home, while a more diverse audience might benefit from a multi-pronged approach, including information posters or an information/planning session held at the school.
Step 2: Find your spots and map the routes
Determine several Drive-to-five locations that are about a five-minute walk from the school, and are safe and convenient places for parents to park, or drop-off and pick-up their children. Then, map safe and accessible walking routes between each drop-off area and the school.
Drive-to-five locations should:
- have ample room for safe drop-off or parking, or be close to a bus stop and transit route,
- provide access to families approaching the school from all directions,
- not inconvenience residents or local businesses, and
- be safe and comfortable: low traffic and well lit.
Drive-to-five locations should have safe and accessible walking routes to school. Test out your routes, considering:
- how long the walk will take, and whether it is suitable for younger children, families with strollers or students using mobility aids;
- what types of obstacles you encounter – poor infrastructure, major crossings, railway tracks, etc. – and what could be done to overcome them;
- whether the route is suitable for a child walking independently or families walking together; and
- whether the route feels safe and comfortable, with good sightlines, adequate lighting, and an overall positive feeling.
If a route has potential but includes some obstacles, reach out to your municipality to find out:
- whether there are any planned improvements or upgrades scheduled that would address the obstacles; or
- if there is another route they can point you to that might avoid the obstacles you encountered.
If the route you identified is the best option but presents challenges, communicate your concerns or offer to coordinate a walkabout with members of the school community. Municipal staff will likely have strategies to address the kinds of challenges you’ve identified.
Step 3. Let everyone know
Spread the word about the Drive-to-five program through as many channels as possible – there’s fun and safety in numbers. Some ideas include:
- creating posters to advertise the program at the school, or having a group of students design them and asking the school post them,
- making announcements over the PA or during assemblies, and
- getting students involved: work with them to develop skits and radio-plays, providing information and generating anticipation for Drive-to-five days.
Step 4. Put up Drive-to-five signs
Either the night before or the morning of days that are being promoted as Drive-to-five days, put up the Drive-to-five signs at the mapped-out Drive-to-five locations. If you have students involved, encourage them to decorate the Drive-to-five locations with balloons, sidewalk chalk, etc.
Drive-to-five programs are effective during all seasons, as they allow students to incorporate short walks on well-lit routes on even the wettest, darkest days of the year. In terms of frequency, Drive-to-five programs are very flexible, ranging anywhere from monthly Drive-to-five days to families incorporating Drive-to-five locations into their daily trip to and from school.
Roles for Volunteers
If your school community is able to commit a bit more PAC time to a Drive-to-five program, have a version of the program that is the same as the second option but adds parent and student greeters to meet families at each mapped out Drive-to-five location. Station parent greeters at each mapped out Drive-to-five location fifteen minutes before school starts. This is a nice way to promote the program and to get parents comfortable with the idea of dropping their kids off at locations five minutes away from the school. If possible, also have volunteers at these locations again after school; this way students can have a trusted adult wait with them until their parents arrive for pick-up at the mapped-out drive-to five locations.
In addition to helping promote the program, older students can volunteers as walkers or greeters at Drive-to-five stations with adult supervision. Once your Drive-to-five program is up and running, students can help build and sustain its energy. Have students pick theme days and help with promotion with posters, skits, and PSAs or web videos.
Ensure that information about the program is everywhere – in school communications (e.g. newsletter), platforms (e.g. school website and calendar) and introductory materials (e.g. new student registration material and welcome packages) to promote awareness, provide reminders and build the program into the school’s culture.
Talk to your municipality about creating permanent signs at Drive-to-five locations and wayfinding on walking routes to school.
Get new families on board ASAP. Change is hard, but research shows that transitions points – like starting at a new school – are the best opportunities to try new things and form new habits. Introduce the program at orientation sessions or in registration packages to show new families that “this is the way we do things” at your school.
Barriers you may encounter
No one likes traffic, and your Drive-to-five program may create the impression that you are simply moving congestion out of the school zone and into another neighbourhood. Make sure your drop-off and/or park-and-walk locations are well chosen and don’t impact business and residents. Incorporate transit routes, and encourage transit use to reduce traffic and vehicle trips. Let the locals know what you’re doing, either in person or with a letter asking them to contact the program organizer with questions or concerns.