SMMUSD HDQTRS — When Charlotte Biren and Jenna Perelman approached the dais to accept a commendation from the Board of Education on behalf of the Santa Monica High School Solar Alliance for its work inspiring district kids to spare the air by biking, walking or busing to school, they were thrilled and honored for their work to be recognized.

The event, called Bike It! Day, takes weeks to get all of the players on board that are needed to receive the initial permissions from City Hall, which donates bike racks and other resources to make sure the day runs smoothly.

And, of course, there are the hundreds of students across the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District that participated, making this Bike It! Day the most far-reaching attempt since the event got off the ground in 2007 under the leadership of then-President of the Solar Alliance, Lulu Mickelson.

The club deserved the accolades, but there was another surprise in store for the two co-presidents, Biren and Perelman, who had devoted themselves to the cause for the past several weeks.

“We’ve received some late breaking news,” announced Board of Education President Jose Escarce, who then invited club coordinator Richard McKinnon to speak.

McKinnon, a bicycle activist and Recreation and Parks commissioner, helps the club with the technical aspects and used his professional expertise as a marketing consultant to create the promotional materials for the day.

He informed the assembled students, parents and officials that the event had garnered more than local attention — it had gone straight to the top.

“They are to be recognized for their environmental leadership through a commendation by the President of the United States,” McKinnon announced.

The girls were shocked.

“I couldn’t believe that I had something in my hands that President Obama had signed,” Perelman said.

Bike It! Day evolved from humble beginnings in 2007, when it first got off the ground.

Somewhere between 80 and 100 of the 3,600 students at Samohi participated, a number which was doubled this year at Samohi alone despite lower enrollment numbers.

It was the first year that other schools have participated in the event, achieved partially through outreach to John Adams Middle School on the part of Perelman and Biren, but also as a result of an organic movement among younger children to join in on the action.

District wide, 600 kids got out of their parents’ cars and onto their bicycles, with another 800 taking the bus and 500 making the effort to walk to school.

According to some analysis conducted by Advanced Placement chemistry students, a single Bike It! Day, with only the high school participants, removes thousands of pounds of carbon from the environment, massively reducing the negative impact by removing those trips to and from school from the equation.

That’s in line with numbers put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency, which estimates that each mile in a car produces 19.4 pounds of carbon.

“This is one of those solutions that everyone can take part in,” Biren said.

It’s also one of the cheapest ways to make an impact — even with the promotional materials, food, rentals and other costs, the two or three Bike It! Days that occur every year need only $4,000 in funding from the Parent Teacher Student Association.

The girls and other members of the Solar Alliance, a popular club on campus which was originally formed to advocate for solar cells on the Drake pool at Samohi, work hard to make sure it’s a solution that students want to be a part of.

It’s hard to break habits ingrained over years of hopping in a car and getting to school the “easy way,” so Bike It! Day comes with incentives.

All over the district, from elementary schools to Samohi, volunteers handed out stickers and Clif Bars to kids who declared themselves part of the movement, and a Bike It! Day breakfast with pastries, fruit, juice and music took over part of the Samohi campus before classes began.

A bike valet service at the high school and extra bike racks donated by City Hall made it easier for students to say “yes” to the cause.

Perelman and Biren, who will be seniors and continue their co-presidency in the next school year, hope to get a similar amount of participation in the October version of the event, which is usually easier to organize because there are fewer end of the year activities that conflict.

They also plan on starting to work with the various school site administrators much earlier to get the event off the ground with minimal stress.

The commendation, both from the board and federal government, lets them know they’re on the right track, the two said.

“It confirms that what we did was worth something, that it was something exceptional,” Biren said.

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