Cycling has become a big part of life at Kaiti School in Gisborne. The decile one primary school has its own bike track, bikes and helmets – and cycling is a regular part of the PE program.
Kaiti was Gisborne’s pilot school for the program, Bikes in Schools, a charity set up to revive the nation’s zest for cycling; during the past 20 years there has been a dramatic fall in the number of kids who bike meaning very many children never experience the “joy of biking” nor its accompanying physical and psychological benefits.
Bikes in Schools consults with schools to help get a cycling program started, helping them to access a package including a bike trail, bicycles, helmets and storage.
Kaiti School’s bike trail opened at the start of this school year. Back then, an estimated 60 per cent of students had never ridden a bike before, but now all are taught to ride safely as well as how to look after their bikes. Students progress through levels from learning on the school’s track to traversing the city’s trails, even in wet weather.
The program is led by passionate cyclists, Anelia Evans and Katrina Duncan, and school principal Billie-Jean Potaka Ayton says it’s had an immediate impact on the kids. “We had to get rules and routines right from the very start, this included how to use bike stands and how to put bikes away properly in the cage for the next class. We thought it might take longer to ingrain some of the positive changes, but it has happened very quickly and we’re pleased to see behaviours like wearing a helmet normalised so fast.”
Teacher aides were brought in specifically to assist with bike maintenance and have gradually taken over the skills training lessons.
All teachers are committed to achieving their kids’ goals, whether it’s spending one on one time with level one students or checking routes for safety before riding them with students. Teachers are heavily involved with kids’ ongoing progress.
With an eye on the future, Ms Potaka Ayton says “We’re encouraging whānau to buy bikes for Christmas instead of PlayStations and Xbox’s.”
Kaiti School caters for 310 students in years one to six. More than 88 per cent students enrolled are Māori and 10 per cent Pacific heritage, mainly Tongan.