Before they began careers working with youth, both of TransForm’s Safe Routes to Schools co-directors considered careers in medicine. Jennifer Ledet wanted to be a doctor until she interned at a hospital and decided, “Absolutely not,” and, fortunately for TransForm, Stephanie Jim decided education suited her better than science. She enjoyed setting up classrooms for her dolls as a child, so it was inevitable she would find her way to working with students. “Teaching has roots in me that go way beyond school,” she says.
Ledet and Jim started working on the Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S) Program at TransForm around the same time about nine years ago, so they had a good working relationship when they were named co-directors in 2022. “I think what’s unique about me and Jennifer is we grew up together,” Jim says. “We have that trust.”
Ledet thinks their roles as co-directors are integral to their teams’ success. “I see it as a real benefit because instead of just having one person who not only is an exclusive decision maker but also has to carry the burden of the different decisions, you share that,” she says. The different perspectives each brings to the work add strength to their leadership team.
We sat down with Jim and Ledet recently to talk about where they find inspiration, the impact of SR2S, and their vision for the future.
Work that brings joy to students and the Safe Routes team at TransForm
“It’s easy to get bogged down in all of the details of planning our events,” Ledet says, but it’s important to remember how much joy it brings. She recalls giving a presentation to a class that had won the Golden Sneaker contest wearing the event’s Goldie costume. She noticed one student who was working on something and not paying attention to her throughout the presentation, but when she started to leave, the student ran up and handed her a drawing. She keeps that picture of her dressed as Goldie over her desk at work.
Jim highlights a Golden Sneaker event as one of her most joyful memories, too. She had gone to an elementary school to promote the event, wearing the Goldie costume. She rolled into the courtyard on a gold scooter, and the kids went crazy. “I felt like I was a rockstar,” she says.
The impact of SR2S programming on students and schools
The joy SR2S programs and events bring to students is one of the positive impacts of the program. It gives students a much-needed break from the serious download of classroom instruction. “What I’m hearing from teachers and staff is they’re looking for positive opportunities for students to participate in,” Jim says. “Kids treasure these moments because they’re getting fewer in their day-to-day school.”
Ledet sees a positive impact in the growth of the program. “We’ve more than doubled the number of schools we work with in the time that I have been with the program,” she says. “The program has grown and grown. We are in the majority of schools in Alameda County.” She also sees the youth-led programs for high school students opening minds to career opportunities in active transportation and giving young people the satisfaction of making positive changes in their communities.
Taking the work home
Ledet and Jim both bring their love of active and shared transportation home to their families. Ledet says her two-year-old daughter tells her in the morning, “I don’t want to get in the car. Bike! Bike!” And her work at TransForm has made her more aware of the environmental impact of her everyday choices, including how she gets around.
One of the themes that the SR2S program emphasizes is being more mindful and slowing down by walking or rolling. “I have never been a walker. I always feel like I’m pressed for time. My mode of choice is biking,” Jim says. But, now that she has young children at home, “I’m finding more and more value in walking, in slowing down.”
Vision for the future
“Now is the time for our Safe Routes work to move to the next level, which is connecting transportation issues schools face with community-wide transportation issues,” Jim says. Ledet adds, “The way in which I hope to see the program grow is by building those connections outside school communities to districts, cities, and elected leaders.”
Both co-directors would like to make the connection between SR2S and TransForm’s policy work. The work TransForm does to improve transit, mobility options, and housing directly impacts the school communities Ledet and Jim work with every day.
“It’s a really exciting time. The opportunity to grow is there,” Jim says. “It’s almost like Christmas. I’m excited to open that package.”