By Eva Inbar, COAST Board President
Every child in Santa Barbara has a bike and knows how to ride once they hit a certain age, right? Well, wrong.
Educators in Washington, D.C., noticed a great disparity, even in access to bicycles, between suburban children and inner city children who often did not own bikes and did not know how to ride one. So the Washington School District decided to provide bikes and bike education to all schools, especially those in the inner city. Will it cure all the disparities? No; but it is something simple we can do that can bring a measure of happiness and freedom to a kid that faces many hurdles. You can read more about the program here.
In Santa Barbara, there are similar disparities, and they extend to having something as basic as a bike. Julie Churchman, P.E. teacher at Adams School, was the first to bring the idea of bike education in P.E. to Santa Barbara. A local private foundation named Audacious stepped up to fund the effort at seven pilot schools countywide—three public and four private—providing a fleet of bicycles to each participating school. One of them was McKinley School.
COAST and SBBIKE agreed to manage the program and train the P.E. teachers in the curriculum. They have been working on it for about a year. Children, usually second graders, are taught by their P.E. teacher for a period of four weeks. By the end of that time, virtually all will know how to ride a bike. Last fall we expanded the program to grades K, 4 and 6, and more schools have come on board. “We've long wanted to institutionalize pedestrian and bike safety in the schools. Funding from Measure A and the Audacious Foundation and our partnership with SBBIKE brings us closer than ever to that goal,” said Kim Stanley, COAST’s Safe Routes to School program coordinator.
It has been hard work, but incredibly rewarding. Often, we support and assist the teachers, taking on those kids that need extra help. Among the sixth graders at McKinley School recently, there were six kids who didn’t know how to ride a bike. One of them, Josue, just won a bike, helmet and lock at the recent Westside Health Fair. Now he needed to master riding it. The following account is by Jody Nelson, one of COAST’s bike instructors:
During the lunch session, there were three learners, Josue, Lizbeth and Ruby. Josue started out really fearful and afraid he would fall, saying “Don’t let go of me.” He said his father never taught him how to ride a bike. He was determined to eventually ride and show his dad that he could. For a fleeting few seconds he felt his own independence on the bike. He was so excited that he exclaimed “I am so happy I feel I’m going to cry!” I started to tear up and said “Now I’m crying.” A few minutes later he exclaimed “I feel like I want to give someone a hug,” and he gave me a big long hug. He was so thrilled to start learning! All three said they would be there again tomorrow. They are all so sweet, grateful and determined to get this! This is why we do what we do.
Josue has since been bringing his new bike to school and practicing every day.