Leader Profile: Nora Cody

An interview with Nora Cody, Alameda County Safe Routes to Schools Director

Over 160 elementary, middle, and high schools are enrolled in the Alameda County Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S) program, which provides a variety of bicycle and pedestrian safety education and encouragement activities throughout the school year. The SR2S program is funded by the Alameda County Transportation Commission, through a combination of federal and state grants and the Measure B half-cent transportation sales tax. The program activities are delivered by Cycles of Change, Bike East Bay, and 10 site coordinators from TransForm. Nora Cody, the Alameda County Safe Routes to Schools Director, leads the team of site coordinators, who work with school champions to implement activities at all the schools, direct outreach efforts, and assist with overall project guidance. Nora recently received the 2016 Hubsmith Safe Routes Champion Award, named for Deb Hubsmith, founding director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, who dedicated her life and career to advancing the Safe Routes to School movement.

What is unique about the Alameda County SR2S program?

Our program has a focus on equity, both geographically and in the communities that we serve. We want to make sure that we are reaching all parts of the county, especially in low-income and underserved communities, where less infrastructure and limited resources for programs to support students and their families who want to walk or bike to school exist. Alameda County is very diverse. At least 47 different languages are spoken by students, and at least half of the students enrolled in about 55% the schools in the Alameda County SR2S program are eligible for free and reduce price meals, a proxy used for poverty. We try to make sure that programs like Bike Rodeos, Rock the Block assemblies, and walk audits are made available to lower resourced schools. We also feel it is important to respect the diversity and cultural backgrounds of the communities we work in. This is reflected in the composition of our program staff and champions, many of whom are bilingual and have emigrated from all over the world.

The champion model is a huge contributor to the success of the program. Champions are volunteers (often parents, but sometimes teachers or school administrators) who work closely with the site coordinators and are the school liaison for the program. The champion model ensures that the unique needs and interests of each school are incorporated in programs and activities. Having consistent communication and engagement with the champions helps to achieve a sustained cultural shift and long-term behavior change in schools.

Cultivating youth leadership is also a big part of our program. In our middle and high schools, students are involved with everything from planning events at their school, to spreading information about the benefits of biking and walking to their peers, to participating in walk audits. We are developing the next generation of Safe Routes to Schools leaders.

How has Deb Hubsmith inspired you?

Deb was an energetic, visionary, and passionate leader, and that showed every time she spoke. While she was working in Marin County, I was fortunate to get advice from her about political strategy and forming allies during the early stages of developing the Alameda County program.

For others who may want to implement a similar program, what advice would you give them?

The program should be rooted in the community. Listen and learn from the people you’re working with and respect the expertise of everyone – whether they are students, parents, school staff, or city officials. Building trust and relationships with schools takes time and humility.