As physical inactivity is on the rise, Cascade offers solutions to get young people moving outdoors
Major Taylor Project students enjoy time together before a ride
King County’s children are not getting enough time outdoors, according to a newly released report administered by The Aspen Institute in partnership with the University of Washington and King County.
While residents of the Puget Sound region—and Washington state as a whole—are among the healthiest in the nation, there are cracks in the system that leave some King County youth at risk. In particular, language barriers, transportation, and household income are obstacles for families across the region when it comes to participating in organized sports, especially those in south King County.
Providing accessible opportunities for outdoor recreation is critical to the health of our region’s youth. One of the report’s key recommendations focuses on establishing schools as a hub for physical activity. In line with this recommendation, we are committed to the community partnerships that help us grow our youth-based school programming across the region. Across Seattle Public Schools, Cascade delivers Let’s Go, a bike and pedestrian safety/skills program for students in third through sixth grades. The program, which is delivered in every elementary school throughout the district, currently serves approximately 17,000 students by instilling in them the knowledge and confidence to use biking for recreation and transportation.
A classroom of Let's Go participants celebrates the new school year
Even with Let’s Go and other programs paving the way, the data is staggering. According to the new report, only 19 percent of youth in King County are getting the 60 minutes of daily physical activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What’s more, the study reveals that physical activity declines as youth get older, with only 13 percent of high school seniors meeting the daily recommendations.
“We’ve recognized the need to provide a continuum of knowledge and skill-building opportunities in order to keep students fully engaged as they progress through the system,” said Cascade Education Director Rachel Osias. “It’s not just about the repetition of learning skills, but also about access and continued support,” she continued.
With this in mind, Cascade is formulating efforts to launch a pilot middle school program to continue on the heels of Let’s Go. The program will work in continued partnership with Seattle Public Schools and will build on the knowledge and skills learned in the elementary grades with a curriculum that is physically and developmentally appropriate for middle school youth.
While providing consistency in programming is a key goal for Cascade, the need to expand that programming geographically remains a priority. According to The Aspen Institute report, most of south King County has poor transit access to parks and generally has less green space. Youth in south King County neighborhoods have more restricted access to fewer playfields than their counterparts in other parts of the region.
Cascade’s Major Taylor Project (MTP) aims to address this disparity by providing an after-school youth development program for middle and high school students across south King County and Tacoma. Currently operating in 14 schools this fall, MTP builds community and offers the chance for students to explore their own neighborhoods and beyond while establishing healthy routines that incorporate regular outdoor activity. MTP reaches more than 500 students annually, the majority of whom come from racial and cultural backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in cycling, making the reported findings even more critical to Cascade’s work. The report states that “youth of color spend significantly less time at the parks near them than their white peers.” That’s why it’s critical that the program not only acquaints students with their neighborhood surroundings, including nearby parks, but also instills in them the knowledge and skills necessary to use the bike as a powerful tool for transportation—and independence.
As more youth and families gain awareness of bicycling through our programs, it has become equally important to increase the number of community resources that are available year-round. In 2016, the White Center Bicycle Playground officially opened in Dick Thurnau Memorial Park, converting abandoned tennis courts into a mini-streetscape complete with lanes, stop signs, and crosswalks. The learning facility, which is open to the public, empowers local youth to build their bike skills and gain confidence, as well as providing a safe space for physical activity. The bike playground was made possible through a grant from King County Parks, along with program planning and design support from Alta Planning + Design, the YES! Foundation, and the White Center Community Development Association. In addition to being a year-round resource available to the public, the playground also serves as a location for Cascade summer camps,a route location on the Ride for Major Taylor, and a training space for MTP youth.
The White Center Bicycle Playground as viewed from above; photo courtesy of King County Parks
With the release of the new report, the relevance of Cascade’s youth-based programming is more prevalent than ever before. According to the results from youth focus groups and surveys, cycling is among the top physical activities that elementary and middle school students participate in.
“The demand is clearly present,” said Cascade Executive Director Richard Smith of the need for more educational tools and opportunities for outdoor activity. “This report reinforces so much of what we are trying to do with our bicycling education,” he said of the recent findings. “We’re seeing all the ways in which educational, environmental and social factors have coalesced into a very real need for programs like Let’s Go and MTP, and now is the time for action.”
As the 2019-2020 school year kicks off, we have a big mission to fulfill on behalf of the thousands of students and families engaged in our programming. We are grateful to the community school partners, volunteers, and supporters who help us make the outdoors more accessible to youth across the region. We’re excited for the journey ahead.