The call to involve the younger generation in climate action is growing louder every day. Collingwood’s On The Move active school travel project is answering these calls by bringing in youngsters to help promote walking and wheeling to school at four elementary schools in the town.
“We wanted to develop communication packages that are informed from a youth perspective. In essence, we were trying to ensure that our messages reach who we are trying to target: i.e., kids in school,” says Jennifer Parker, Coordinator, Community Well-being & Inclusion at the Town of Collingwood, who leads the project along with Environment Network. “We worked with the Collingwood Youth Centre—which has programming specifically related to film and media—to capture images and work with younger students to build a communication package to promote winter school travel.”
Town staff facilitated the communication development process starting with consulting the Youth Advisory Committee at the Collingwood Youth Centre in December last year. The committee—consisting of 12 local youth, including high school students and community leaders in their 20s—was provided with a background of the existing active school transportation initiatives, informed about barriers to promoting active mobility and existing tools that could be leveraged to address these roadblocks.
“We found that youngsters looked at challenges to active transportation very differently than adults. So, hearing their perspective on why they choose to walk or wheel to school and talking about tools that could address the barriers they mentioned was important,” says Parker. The young team primarily wanted to shift the tone of communication to make walking and wheeling sound playful and fun to elementary school students. The committee also made reference to working with influencers who could motivate school goers.
The Youth Advisory Committee took on the task of creating social media messages incorporating their learnings and recommendations. The Town aided the process by ensuring that appropriate permissions were obtained from parents during the creation of the material. These messages were utilized in driving an engaging Winter Walk Day campaign throughout the winter months.
Besides focusing on communication, the project is installing wayfinding signage and sidewalk stencils across the town. Traffic calming measures like bollards, speed cushions and signage will also find their space on school streets in late spring. The team is waiting to wrap up these installations to host a media event and walk/bike to school event later this year.
The project in Collingwood is one of the community-based projects to receive support from the Ontario Active School Travel Fund.