Catherine Kalessis, Safe Routes to School Advocate and Parent Champion

Meet Catherine Kalessis, an advocate for Safe Routes to School in her community. Through her involvement with the Sunnyside Elementary School PTA and partner organizations, Catherine is working hard to make active commuting to school — such as walking, scooting, and biking — safe and accessible to all.

SF Bicycle Coalition: What inspired you to to get involved with the Sunnyside Elementary community in favor of biking and active transportation?
Catherine: We live only a few blocks from school, so there was no question we would be walking, scooting and biking to school. I wanted to be active in the school community, so this seemed like a natural fit. When my children entered first grade, I became the PTA chair of the Health and Wellness Committee, which encompasses healthy transportation options to and from school.

What work have you done at Sunnyside to encourage biking for the children and their families?
We have had weekly Walk & Roll Wednesdays, wonderful Walk to School and Bike to School days and a Bike Rodeo. I share information from Safe Routes to School to our online parent forum and write articles for our newsletters. We have hosted schoolwide encouragement programs and offered awards for participation. We’re looking forward to participating in the Shared Schoolyard Project this school year, which is a citywide initiative to provide a place for children and families in San Francisco to play and gather within walking distance from their homes.

It will take dedicated participation to reduce single-family car trips and create a continued awareness of and respect for everyone using our streets, sidewalks and bike lanes. I hope to encourage parents and children to embrace the pace of and enjoy walking, biking and scooting to school.

What work have you done with the Safe Routes to School partnership, including SF Bicycle Coalition’s Nancy Buffum, and how has that impacted the community?
Nancy and I have worked closely since day one. We’ve had many meetings and sent numerous emails to share and encourage new ideas and for me to garner her wealth of knowledge and support for our many activities. Nancy has always been available for meeting with new committee members, our teachers and our principal, and sent support for our traffic-counting project. I think our Bike Rodeo was absolutely the best as there was so much activity and support from Nancy and all her contacts. Without Nancy’s support and dedication, our program would not be where it is today.

What advice do you have for other parents who care about transportation issues around their school and community?
Stay positive and active throughout the school year, create crossover opportunities with Shared Schoolyard and other PTA activities and events, use the Safe Routes to School emails and newsletters to communicate activities through your parent-teacher online forums, and lead by example.

Are you interested in learning more about safe, active methods of moving through the city with little ones? Check out our Youth & Family Biking Programs page for program updates and to subscribe to the Youth & Family Biking newsletter.

Become a member and you'll improve your commute and get discounts at shops across the city.