Commute Option’s Safe Routes to School coordinator Brian Potwin doesn’t usually act as a drama coach. But last week, Potwin traded in his helmet and bike for a role as theater teacher, coaching seven Miller Elementary students in Bend through a skit they performed in front of the entire student body Friday.

“It was a thrill to be up there teaching the school about safety,” said Katy Klein, 9. “It was just really cool.”

Friday’s skit about bike safety heralded the start of Potwin’s work in local schools this school year. As a representative of Commute Options, Potwin teaches students about safety and the benefits of walking and bicycling in area schools throughout the year, including Miller, Bear Creek, Juniper, Highland and Ponderosa elementaries and Rimrock Expeditionary Learning Middle School in Bend, Sage Elementary School in Redmond, and, new this year, in Black Butte School in Camp Sherman.

Students start out practicing in the school hallways, and eventually build up to field trips.

Within the next three years, Potwin said Commute Options is aiming to expand its Safe Routes to School program to include every school in Bend-La Pine Schools.

“We’ve been here for 10 years, and over that time, I’ve really seen the want for this program turn into a need,” Potwin said.

In addition to being in the schools, Commute Options now offers bike safety education during the summer for elementary students.

New this summer, Commute Options, in partnership with the Environmental Center, held the first “Eco Hero” camp. During the weeklong camp, Potwin taught students the rules of the road by leading them around Bend on a biking tour. The camp will be offered again next summer.

Last week, seven of Miller Elementary’s highest-achieving fifth-graders were selected to take part in a skit about pedestrian and bike safety. Throughout the week, Potwin coached the students in their roles.

“I think it’s important to be careful on the road,” said Kaylee Carlton, 10. “You can’t be careless. You have to turn where you say you’re going to turn, and make sure to know your surroundings.”

The actors imparted that message to their classmates, while also demonstrating how to properly cross a crosswalk by waiting and making eye contact with drivers, and how to properly signal while riding a bike.

During the skit, Kellen Flynn, 10, acted as a driver, cruising behind a paper wheel before stopping at a marked crosswalk for a couple of pedestrians.

“I think it’s good to learn the rules of the road,” Kellen said later. “I think that helps later on when you learn to drive.”

Students wrapped up the play holding up posters with the letters P-A-L-S written on them, an easy-to-remember acronym encouraging students to be Polite, Alert, Legal and Safe while walking and biking to school.

For Potwin, Friday’s assembly was just the beginning of his work in area schools. Oct. 9 marks international Bike and Walk to School Day, a day that will be celebrated with multiple events at the nine schools frequented by Commute Options.

“Our main mission is to create safe and fun ways for students to bike to school,” Potwin said. “We want to instill a whole new thought process in students that promotes a healthy and active lifestyle.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0354,

Miller ES SRTS