For Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School fifth-grader Duru, scootering to school with a friend each morning is fun because the short commute gives her some exercise and feels easier than walking.
"When you're walking, you feel so sluggish with your backpack on," Duru said. "But when you're scootering or biking, it's just a bit faster and you don't feel like you have a backpack on."
Local school and city officials encourage students and families to get to campuses without driving, by using methods like biking, scootering and walking.
In an effort to help students learn the rules of the road and get to school safely, the city of Mountain View's Safe Routes to School program has partnered with the Mountain View Whisman School District to host transportation safety trainings at every elementary and middle school this fall.
After attending a Monday, Aug. 29, workshop at Vargas, Duru said that she plans to focus more on making eye contact with drivers when she's riding her scooter to school, which was one of the safety tips students learned.
Her classmate Alex said he enjoyed the workshop and likes getting to bike to school each day.
"It's really quick and efficient and fun," Alex said.
During the training at Vargas, kids rotated through four stations, where they learned about the importance of wearing a helmet and how to ensure it fits properly, what various road signs mean, how to check the inflation of bike tires and other safety skills. Students were also given a map of recommended roads to use when biking to school.
The district has held bike safety trainings in the past, but Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said that they tended to be opt-in events, rather than a coordinated effort. After Graham Middle School student Andre Retana died in a March 2022 fatal collision while bicycling, Rudolph said that the issue of bicycle safety came to a head and the district decided all schools should be getting safety training.
"It reminded me that we have a captive audience and that we have a moral obligation to get our kids to school safely," Rudolph said.
A cyclist himself, Rudolph spoke of the importance of following safety best practices, like using hand signals and learning how to safely share the road with cars. He and his son, who is a student in the district, bike to work and school together each morning. The rides give the two a chance to spend time together, Rudolph said, adding that he wants kids to be able to get out and bike, but that it needs to be safe.
Likewise, Vargas Principal Vern Taylor said that he encourages families to walk or bike to school, but that parents need to be able to trust that it's safe to let their kids forgo a car ride.
"We want to make sure that kids are walking and biking to school – and to do that, you have to make sure they can do it safely," Taylor said.
Roughly 40 students at Vargas bike each day, while another 15 to 20 take scooters, Taylor estimated, adding that many of the school's roughly 340 students walk. A lot of families commute from a housing development that is directly across the street, he said.
For Priyoti Ahmed, a transportation planner with the city of Mountain View who manages the Safe Routes to School program, the workshops offer a good opportunity to get feedback directly from students about their paths to school.
At Vargas, she learned that unlike other schools, there are many more walkers than bikers, and that among those who do bike, many are taking North Whisman Road, which runs directly to the school, but doesn't have a protected bike lane. This is the kind of feedback she'll bring back to city staff, so they can incorporate it into future project planning.
During the workshop, Ahmed led a station where she taught kids basic rules of the road and reviewed a map of preferred biking paths near the school. The safety trainings offer an opportunity to teach kids practical skills, as well as to get them thinking about different modes of transportation.
"Conceptions of what is safe, it forms pretty young," Ahmed said. "I think we have a really good opportunity to advocate for sustainable transportation through safety."
Even before the fatal collision that killed Andre last spring, Ahmed said that the city was already interested in getting standardized transportation safety education set up in local schools.
Rudolph said he is thankful for the city, district staff and community for recognizing the importance of this issue.
"Obviously I pray that there will never be an accident, but I know that educating our kids will get us a lot closer," Rudolph said. "It won't prevent everything, but it will definitely reduce a lot of the near misses and a lot of the accidents that we have."