Thanks to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI), Chilcotin Road Elementary students are getting a leg up on cycling to school.
The Chilcotin Road Parent Advisory Council (PAC) applied last year for funding through the B.C. Healthy Communities Active School Travel Pilot Program to help support students using active transportation to get to and from school.
The program is funded by MoTI and administered by BC Health Communities with the goal of “to support more students to walk, bike and scoot to and from school” according to their website. Spurred on by Covid isolation, the program is aimed to support families and students spending more time outdoors while staying connected.
Chilcotin Road was approved for the $10,000 grant and is now one of 12 schools in the province participating in the program, and locally it was co-led by Principal Gregg Gaylord and Jane Wellburn.
“It’s super cool,” said Wellburn about hearing from schools throughout the province about their experiences and learnings. Many schools have already been participating in the program for a year.
Jane Wellburn is a mom whose oldest son now goes to Chilcotin Road, and she also attended Chilcotin Road as a student.
“We all rode our bikes or walked to school,” she recalls of her childhood attending the school nearby where her parents still live.
Driving her son every day, she saw the long lineup of vehicles dropping off students and not only was she concerned about the safety of children in the parking lot with so many vehicles coming and going, but she recalled the freedom and independence she felt riding with other students to school.
In order to try and support students to be able to experience this freedom and independence, she brought the idea of applying to join the program to the PAC and she said the group was very much “on board”.
Principal Gregg Gaylord is an avid bicycle commuter who said he used to take students on the local trails when he was still a teacher.
“I just saw how kids enjoy it, they love it,” he said of getting outside and being active, so he thought the program was a great opportunity.
He said once they were approved for the funds, and he started talking to students and families, he realized there were some opportunities to address some of the barriers to active transit to the school. Things like road crossings in the Westridge area, and improvements to trails near the school.
While still in the early stages, the program has already hosted some activities for the students and shared out an online survey for families and surveyed students for one week.
The surveys will help set a baseline for the school, and help determine what barriers might be stopping some families and students from cycling to school.
On May 17, an after-school clinic was held for moms and daughters to help them gain some bike skills, taught by certified mountain bike instructors Beth Holden and Denise Duschene to help build confidence in young female riders. This came about because one of the program learning modules included a statistic about female students being far less likely to ride bikes. Another statistic shows students are more likely to participate in active travel if they see their parents doing it.
On June 1, a Bike Rodeo was led by Red Shred’s Mark Savard and Jacinta D’Andrea with three hours of bike tuning, helmet checks and some riding and road safety.
Participation was amazing, said Wellburn, with so many bikes the entire school courtyard was packed with bicycles.
There was a “slow race” with the Grade 6 class, and she said the kids were amazing, competing with determination to win the slowest rider prize.
During Go By Bike Week, students were also encouraged to ride, with one student even riding from South Lakeside.
The rodeo and clinic helped to prepare bikes and create a bit of a buzz, said Wellburn, with many students riding to school following the events.
“It’s nice to kind of carry that momentum,” she said.
The next steps for the Chilcotin Road program will be to develop an active travel plan and to do a follow-up survey to see if there has been a shift in travel habits. Wellburn is also working on finding additional funds to paint a mural on the school around the theme of active travel.
Eventually the PAC at Chilcotin Road is hoping to be able to share some of the learnings from the program with other PACs interested in encouraging and enabling active transportation.