Students get on their bikes

Issue: Volume 94, Number 14

Posted: 10 August 2015
Reference #: 1H9crt

A new, safe cycle track is building the confidence of students and proving to be a community treasure for Freemans Bay. Education Gazette talks to Freemans Bay School board chair Peter Bateman about its development.

For the first time ever, Freemans Bay School is investigating bike racks for its grounds.

Why? Because it now boasts a beautiful new cycle track that is already getting continual use from the surrounding community.

Freemans Bay School board chair Peter Bateman says the cycle track idea was sparked by Paul McArdle, founder of the Bike On New Zealand Charitable Trust.

The Trust runs a programme called Bikes in Schools, which has so far helped over 8,000 school children get on their bikes regularly at school.

“It goes back to when we were approached by the Bikes in Schools programme about two years ago,” says Peter. “The team outlined a plan, we thought it sounded like a really good scheme, and it went from there.”

That plan was to build a cycle track around the perimeter of the school. Although Freemans Bay School is lucky enough to have a large grassed area surrounding its classrooms, as an inner-city Auckland school, a large proportion of its students live in apartments without backyards.

“Compared to most schools within a few kilometres of the city, we are fortunate in having relatively large green fields,” says Peter. “But many of our students didn’t have anywhere to safely ride a bike, or even to learn to ride a bike, for that matter.”

As an Enviroschool, staff and the Board of Trustees were also looking for means to promote and learn about sustainability, community, and healthy choices for both people and the environment.

“Given that, as well as the benefits of cycling being good for student health and confidence, we felt it was an obvious thing to do,” says Peter.

The bike track winds around the perimeter of the school, and was built from compressed earth for maximum robustness. It measures about two metres wide, and includes some lumps and bumps for developing the riding skills of young cyclists.

The Bikes in Schools programme managed the construction of the track, along with the provision of a wider cycling package. This package differs depending on the school involved. At Freemans Bay, it included a school set of bikes, a helmet for each student, a secure storage shed, and cycle skills training for teachers.

The package was funded by a group of local businesses and organisations.

Peter says students at the school are now bringing their own bikes to school.

“An interesting side effect was, that even before the bike track was opened, and before we had received the 55 bikes (as part of the package), suddenly a dozen kids turned up with their own bikes to try out the track.

“And in nearly 20 years’ involvement at the school, that was the first time that I’d seen kids bringing their bikes to the school grounds.

“When I was a child, everyone rode to school. But in inner-city Auckland it’s very hilly, there’s a lot of traffic, and it’s not a friendly environment for children on bikes.”

In March, Freemans Bay School principal Sandra Jenkins opened the track at a special ceremony attended by associate education minister Nikki Kaye, parents, and other community members.

A community treasure

Freemans Bay School encourages the surrounding community to utilise its school grounds, and the new cycle track is an added attraction.

“We are always encouraging our community to use the school grounds on the weekends, as a safe community hub,” says Peter.

“People use the fields, courts, and playgrounds every weekend. So we thought that the bike track would add to those attractions, and that would get people using the facilities even more.”

Peter says that he recently noticed a child’s birthday party being held at the track. “I was walking by the school on the weekend when I came across a birthday party, involving some boys at the school, and their families and friends. It was great to see the children riding around on their bikes in a group like that.

“We’re all about the community, and building those community links.”

A community effort

The Bike On New Zealand Charitable Trust offers free advice about funding and implementation to any school interested in the programme.

Using the experience gained from rolling out the package in a number of schools around the country, the Trust works to provide the track and bikes without requiring a high level of organisational input from the school staff.

The full Bikes in Schools package includes three bike tracks (a combination of riding, pump and bike skills paths), a fleet of new bikes (including special-purpose bikes for children with disabilities), a helmet for each student, a bike storage facility if required, and a bike coach to introduce the programme, and teach basic riding skills.

The programme is funded in different ways, depending on individual school communities. Funders usually include community groups, regional organisations, along with public and private businesses.

In 2013, the Ministry of Education announced an amendment to school capital funding policy, in order to support the construction of cycle tracks.

“The Ministry of Education has amended policy so that cycle tracks can be funded along with other projects that create modern learning environments from capital funding. The tracks could also be used for general fitness activities such as walking and running,” said associate education minister Nikki Kaye.

“Schools’ capital funding will meet up to 50 per cent of the costs of the tracks with the schools funding the other half. This could be through fund raising or co-funding by a range of organisations including philanthropic trusts and sports funders.”

Freemans Bay School students try out their new cycle track

Bikes in schools project

Founded by Paul McArdle in 2010, the Bike On New Zealand Charitable Trust aims to help more New Zealanders to experience the joy and benefits of riding a bike.

The programme involves a school implementing a complete biking ‘package’, enabling all students to ride a bike on a regular basis.

This package includes:

  • A fleet of new bikes.
  • A bike helmet for every child.
  • A combination of riding, pump and bike skills tracks.
  • Bike storage facility (where needed).
  • Bike coach to introduce the programme and teach basic riding skills.

All the bikes and helmets are owned by the school and remain on the school property. The tracks are built within the school property, and any storage facilities are also owned by the participating school.

Fitter, happier, more productive...

Freemans Bay School students are discovering the joy of riding their bike along the new track.

  • “My biking skills have improved and I am calmer in class because I get some fresh air going outside. I think the school has made the best choice and all the kids love the new bike track.” – Morgan
  • “I think the bike track was a great idea, and all schools should have one because not only is it fun, it’s also great exercise, and maybe one day you might get into Olympic bike riding. Also, if you don’t have a bike at home, you can enjoy the fun of learning how to ride a bike.” – Alix
  • “At the start of the year I couldn’t even ride a bike and now I can ride standing up and with one hand. I am so happy that the school got a bike track because now I can go on long bike rides with the rest of my family. Now that I am riding my bike every week I am getting physically fitter and I am happier for some reason.” – Paige
  • “I didn’t know how to ride a bike before the bike track opened so I felt kind of left out but after three or four bike sessions I could complete the track. I would recommend it to other schools because it’s really fun and if you don’t know how to ride a bike it can help you to learn.” – Towa

Fewer Kiwi kids on bikes

Over the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic drop in children riding bikes in New Zealand.

According to Ministry of Transport data, between 1990 and 2009, the average time spent cycling by 5-12 year old children had dropped from 27 minutes per week to just seven minutes per week.

In the same timeframe, the average distance had fallen from 2.8km per week to 0.8km per week.

In addition, bike ownership levels are dramatically lower at low-decile schools (30 per cent) than they are at high decile schools. (>75 per cent).

BY Melissa Wastney
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 5:11 PM, 10 August 2015

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