Two dads at Clairemont Elementary are known as the “Bike Dude” and the “Shoe Dude.”
With their daughters, Neil Norton bicycles and Greg Coleson walks to school daily, along the way encouraging other parents to do the same.
On a special "Walk and Roll" to School day last October, Norton and Coleson were among about 75 percent of the school’s 350 students and parents who burned calories instead of fossil fuels getting to Clairemont.
To recognize the school’s six year commitment to the Safe Routes to School program, the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to feature Clairemont for the annual Georgia Walk to School Day next Wednesday.
Clairemont was one of the state’s first to enroll in the Georgia Safe Routes to School program, a federally funded program aimed at increasing the number of children in kindergarten through eighth grade who don't drive to school.
Next Wednesday, as students gather in the auditorium for their morning assembly, they will view student-made videos of their experiences on foot and on bikes getting to class, and hear from Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd, representatives from the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Georgia Safe Routes to School Resource Center.
“I think the program is a positive, fun and healthy way to bring the community together,” said Clairemont Principal Erin Wheeler. “It encourages students to make healthy choices at a young age. It brings parents together with their children.”
She added, "It has become a program that is meaningful and a part of our school culture."
She credits staff and praises parents, saying they're the "backbone of these efforts.”
Walking to school has been prized by nearby residents. On a recent morning, Greg and Lydia Coleson strolled down the sidewalk, noticing a new flower and listening to birds chirping in a magnolia tree.
“It’s a good chance to meet parents that you see on a day-to-day basis,” said crossing guard Liz Etichison, who gives third grader Lydia a hug before stopping Clairmont Avenue traffic for daddy and daughter to cross.
Special days for getting to school on foot help to encourage parents to participate who might not otherwise have time, says Cheryl Burnette, assistant director of Decatur’s Active Living program.
“I hear from parents that my kid is bugging me to walk,” laughed Burnette.
Norton said he got involved in the program when he witnessed the massive number of students taking part.
“I was just blown away by it,” said Norton. “I’m like, this is something I’ve got to be part of.”
As the Safe Routes to School chair, Norton was introduced as the “bike dude,” a nickname that stuck. Coleson is taking over the program next year, so he’s becoming “shoe dude.”
Norton said his daughters, Eliana and Naomi, love biking to school, even up the hill and when it’s a little cold.
Clairemont and other schools have “bike trains” or groups of cyclists traveling to school at the same time, or "walking school buses," or parent-led groups of students walking to school at pre-set time. Usually, students who walk or bike to school get some sort of small prize.
“We just provide the structure to be safe,” Norton said. “What’s unbelievable is the kids who get the parents to walk.”
“If parents are too busy, the kids apply pressure,” said Norton. “When your little kindergartner begs you to walk to school, what are you gonna say, no?”