A new program focused on teaching elementary school students bike safety has rolled into St. Jacobs Public School.

Founded by retired teacher Philip Martin, Cycling into the Future (CITF) works with Grade 5 students to give them a good foundation for cycling on neighbourhood streets.

However, since it is in its first year with the school both Grade 5 and 6 students are involved in the interactive modules. Broken down into six sections – rules and safety, tire repair, bike tune-ups, rodeo riding, road riding and finally assessment – CITF is taught in sections over six school days.

Kathy Mathers, principal of St. Jacobs PS, says Martin and the organization have worked successfully to make sure the experience is a part of the curriculum.

“It is so well organized, I am so impressed with what they have done,” said Mathers. “Because it is our first year they are doing it with both the Grade 5 and the Grade 6 class, but in the future it will be done as just part of the Grade 5 curriculum.

“They have done a wonderful job of making it part of the curriculum.”

That plays into Martin’s inception of the program.

Before developing CITF, Martin’s role as a teacher for more than 30 years in Kitchener showed him that bicycle safety training was lacking among students in Ontario.

“The motivating factor for me was my Grade 5 students were really impressed with Terry Fox and they were trying to complete Terry Fox’s run, the part that he didn’t run so they wanted to ‘run’ from Thunder Bay to Victoria,” explained Martin. “We plotted out a road on our school yard, it was about 0.75 km, and ran every day keeping track of our kilometres. In May we discovered that we were not going to make it based on how far we were running every day and one kid said, ‘why don’t we bring our bikes? We can go further on our bikes, we can do more circuits.’

“The first day that kids brought bikes I saw one of my students, this was in Kitchener, ride across Weber Street in a very dangerous way and almost get hit by a car – I was mortified.”

Martin explains that the day following the incident, he sat down and asked the students a variety of questions from how they learned how to ride a bike to the kind of information they had on bike safety. After realizing there was a real need for students to learn how to safely ride their bicycles, they began plotting out the foundation of the course that has been molded into what is taught today.

St Jacobs PS is just the fourth school in Woolwich  to be involved in CITF, which has primarily been offered in Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo, after having been at Riverside Public School, John Mahood Public School and St Teresa of Avila Catholic Elementary School last spring.

Martin hopes that over the next year CITF will be offered throughout all publically funded schools in Woolwich, that is dependent, however, on a few factors.

Since the program is unique to the Waterloo Region, funding comes from three different sources – a quarter from community sources, another quarter from the municipality to which the school is in and half from families.

Having been approved last year, Martin is hopeful to be approved for funding again this year.

“We have a plan to begin working at all of the schools in Woolwich Township in the next year and a half, so I did present some things at council this spring about that proposal to do that,” he said. “Woolwich could be the first place in our region to have 100 per cent of the publically funded schools participating in it, in a very short period of time – I think by the end of next year.”

Although there is a cost to parents, the program also strives to be totally inclusive of all students.

“We try to take away any barriers that might keep a kid from participating,” he explained.

To do that schools are responsible for paying any registration fees that any families may not be able to pay for. For students who don’t have bicycles, the program can provide them.

This is the first year that St. Jacobs PS has been involved in CITF, although they hope to make it a staple in the curriculum. [Ali Wilson / The Observer]
“We tell kids that there are three steps to getting a bike and step one is negotiate with your family. If that doesn’t work, we try to see if there are any other kids in the school who have an extra bike that they are willing to give away. And if that doesn’t work, we will give kids a refurbished bike that we will either get from a bike drive or a donation of some type or from the landfill and we have volunteers who refurbish these bikes,” said Martin. “In 2016 we gave away 101 bikes in our whole program.”

Martin explains that they also do the same with helmets, although for safety purposes they provide all students with new helmets donated by various insurance groups.

The program is wrapping up at St. Jacobs PS this week although anyone interested can donate used bicycles to the program at anytime throughout the year.