Woolwich to provide funding for in-school bicycle training aimed at Grade 5 students

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Safety trumps the budget, at least where the kids are concerned, Woolwich council decided this week in finding $1,500 for a bicycle training program aimed at Grade 5 students.

Following a presentation by Philip Martin of Cycling Into The Future Tuesday night, the majority of councillors opted to support his request to fund 25 per cent of the cost of bringing the program into the township. The group has been operating in the region’s cities – training some 2,000 kids since 2014 – but this will be its first foray into the rural areas.

Martin said he plans to offer the training program at three Elmira grade schools this spring, aiming for a fall session in St. Jacobs. The plan includes expanding the list of schools to Breslau and Conestogo next year and Floradale by 2019.

Offered in partnership with the schools, the training involves six one-hour modules, held during the school day, he explained. “It’s the curriculum, in a way.”

The program provides training for $40 per student, with parents expected to cover half the cost, with $10 from the municipality and $10 from community fundraising. Martin noted the goal is to eventually make the program even more accessible to all students, as the $20 fee isn’t universally affordable.

With a “covenant of inclusion,” Cycling Into The Future provides financial assistance for the fees, as well as refurbished bikes and new helmets for those students who can’t afford those items. In cases where kids don’t already know how to ride a bike, one-on-one instruction is provided. Similarly, the course can be customized for those with special needs.

Particularly impressed by Martin’s presentation, Coun. Mark Bauman led the charge to find funding for the program, which will require $1,480 this year, ramping up to about $2,500 by 2019.

“This is an excellently thought-out program,” arguing the price tag is minor compared to the cost of just one emergency response to a child involved in a cycling accident.

“It’s a very economical way to provide some safety to our children,” agreed Mayor Sandy Shantz.

While agreeing the program is a good one, both Couns. Murray Martin and Patrick Merlihan suggested parents should be responsible for ensuring the kids get proper safety instruction. Moreover, funding from the school board would be more appropriate. Neither the public nor Catholic board provides any financial support, however.

“I’m going to be the bad guy and not support this,” said Merlihan, arguing others will be lining up looking for support for their worthwhile programs.

In a 3-2 vote, however, councillors agreed to draw some money from a grant-money reserve fund.