BOULDER - Did you know that students have the opportunity to earn credits towards everything from miniature golf to sports gear to ice cream for simply walking or riding their bike to school? Boulder Valley School District’s Trip Tracker program aims to encourage students and families to use alternatives to single family car transportation to BVSD schools.
“We reward kids for anything other than being driven to the front door of the school,” explained Peter Hurst, the director of the Trip Tracker program. “If they bike, bus or carpool -- and even if the parents have to drive, but they park a few blocks away and walk them in, they get rewarded for a green trip.”
Annually, about 4,000 students from 21 schools participate in the program. Last year they earned about $120,000 Trip Tracker dollars, which can be used at about 60 businesses in Boulder Valley.
“It is a real mix,” Hurst said. “I really love it when businesses join where kids can actually buy something that they can use, like going in an buying a hockey stick or a lacrosse stick or a skateboard.”
“We leave the decision up to [the kids and their families],” Hurst added. “ Ice cream and Gateway are very popular.”
In fact, according to Hurst, the most frequented stores are Glacier Ice Cream, Gateway Fun Center, Play It Again Sports and Alfalfa’s. A full list is available on the Trip Tracker website.
“A lot of [the businesses] tell me how delighted they are to have kids come in with their dollars and how excited they are to have the kids come in and how excited the kids are that they earned them,” Hurst said.
Students earn one Trip Tracker dollar for every 5 ‘green trips’ they make to school and they receive an additional dollar for every 12 miles they report in active transportation like walking or biking.
“The average kiddo earns 8 dollars a month,” Hurst said.
The Trip Tracker dollars can be used at participating stores as cash. The stores are reimbursed 50 cents on the dollar, using fundraised dollars.
It is important to note that many of the stores have a limit on how many Trip Tracker dollars can be used in one visit, with the notable exception of Alfalfa's.
“Alfalfa’s has been great. There is no limit to how many dollars they’ll accept from a family, so you can go in and fill your grocery basket,” Hurst said. “They’ve been doing that for a number of years. It is a big commitment.”
Additionally, families may choose to donate the Trip Tracker dollars to a local non-profit.
“It cultivates the philanthropic impulse in kids,” Hurst said. “There are some parents that only participate because I allow that option.”
Hurst believes the Trip Tracker program is one-of-a-kind. While many school districts offer short-term incentives, few are long term, offer their own currencies or allow non profits to benefit from the efforts.
“Frankly, I don’t think there is a program like it in the country. I’ve never run into anything like it and I have presented at national conferences,” Hurst said.
The effort started about eight years ago, while Hurst was working on a grant aimed at increasing RTD ridership and carpooling. He got the idea while watching parents drop off students at a school near his home.
“Just seeing all of those distracted drivers on their phones, waiting to pick up their kids and their kids running between cars -- it is a nightmare,” Hurst said.
He thought that providing a rewards system could improve safety, not to mention other benefits.
“There are other great reasons, including physical fitness. Having kids be active and the fact that there is research that shows that even 10 minutes of walking to school gets kids ready for the day better than being dropped off at the front door,” Hurst said. “I would just encourage parents. Even if they park and walk from a few blocks away, it is really helpful and it is a great time to spend with their kids.”
Moving forward, Hurst would like to see the program expand to more schools, especially those outside of the City of Boulder. If you are interested in learning more or getting your school involved, go to the Trip Tracker page at www.bvsd.org/tracker