Supporting active school travel: A qualitative analysis of implementing a regional safe routes to school program

Active school travel (AST), that is walking and wheeling to/from school, can be a relatively undemanding method for families to increase children’s daily levels of physical activity. To support increased participation in AST, schools and their larger communities have utilized several different interventions and programs. In Canada, the Active and Safe Routes to School (ASRTS) initiative has led the campaign for AST through its flagship School Travel Plan (STP) program. Yet little is known about the partnerships or collaborations which support such programs. This study focuses on the evaluation of schools participating in a regional ASRTS program in Southwestern Ontario. The study was was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of HEAL researchers, including Adrian Buttazzoni (lead author), Dr. Stephanie Coen, and Dr. Jason Gilliland (senior author and principal investigator).

In this case study a thematic analysis was applied to analyze 18 interviews with STP program facilitators and 4 focus groups with their larger STP committees. The study examines multiple factors shaping the functioning of the STP intervention at 10 different elementary schools. The analysis yielded six themes relating to STP implementation and sustainability: 1) accounting for school context; 2) establishing committee capacity and leadership; 3) supporting STP action; 4) responsiveness to external and internal barriers; 5) engaging schools at the grassroots level; and 6) building future champions. Renowned social psychologist Kurt Lewin’s Field Theory was used to frame the forces affecting STP committees, as well as present the findings in a way that can be discussed to support the building of efficient, effective, and viable AST intervention environments.

Support for trainees on this project was generously provided by the Children’s Health Foundation and Children’s Health Research Institute.

Keywords: Canada, Active school travel, Children’s health, Field theory, Organizational change, Physical activity, School travel planning

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