Calgary teacher defies threats to create Bike to School Day

brentwood

The Calgary Herald features editor Tom Babin penned this fantastic piece on Calgary elementary school teacher Kyle Stewart who is defying legal threats to create Bike to School Day.

From the Calgary Herald:

Over the years, many teachers have tried to organize events encouraging kids to ride their bikes to school, only to be shut down by snivelling principals and administrators worried about liability. Someone might crash on his way to school, after all. You know the result: fewer and fewer kids are riding to school, at a time when childhood obesity rates are rising and activity levels among kids are horrendously low.

Kyle Stewart, a teacher at Simon Fraser School in northwest Calgary, is defying all of that. Horrified by the low number of kids he sees on bikes, earlier this year he decided to do whatever it takes to make a bike-to-school event happen. What it took, it turns out, was a phone call to the right person at the right time.

“I went right to the liability guy (for the Calgary Board of Education),” Stewart told me recently. “He was totally on board. It was no big deal.”

It turns out, all of those well-meaning teachers who’ve tried this in the past were stymied by the worst kind of legal bugaboo: the chill. The mere thought of being held liable for an accident during an event related to school was enough to strike fear into the hearts of nervous principals, even though there was little basis in law for those fears. “Because it’s transportation to and from school, I don’t even have to do any paperwork,” Stewart said.

Score a victory for common sense (and the law). The result is that Stewart not only has an ambitious bike-to-school event planned at Simon Fraser, he’s also signed up more than 50 other schools. “It’s getting really big really fast.”

Stewart is leaving it to schools to plan their own specific events, but here’s the basics: on June 2, school administrators and teachers are doing whatever they can to encourage kids to ride to school. This can mean pancake breakfasts, door prizes, or a plain old pat on the back. Stewart is collecting names of all the participants because he wants to know how many kids are taking part, and also to give away some cool prizes. A number of bike shops have already donated, including BikeBike’s offering of a new set of wheels.

With the help of his students, who are driving the project, he’s already got 8,000 kids signed up, but he wants to blow up that number in the future. “I want 20,000 kids in three years,” he says. “We’ve emailed every principal in every elementary school in the city. The kids are super pumped by this.”

Stewart knows that one bike ride won’t change anyone’s life, but he hopes it will show kids, and, perhaps more importantly, their parents, that biking to school isn’t as difficult or dangerous as they might think. He may even make a dent in the absurd too-many-cars-make-school-drop off-unsafe-so-I’ll-drive-my-kid situation so many parents find themselves in.

“A lot of parents think the distance is too far. There’s the cool factor with the junior high kids. But there are just so many benefits,” he says. “Last year, we tried this and saw a huge increase at the bike racks after Bike to School Day.”

Before June 2, he hopes to spread the gospel to Catholic, charter and private schools, and make the event annual, entrenched and self-sustaining. “I really hope parents give principals a hard time if their school is not participating.”

With any luck, he may even grant his daughter’s wish of biking to school like her dad. “My daughter is in Grade 1. She’s been hounding me. ‘Why can’t I do this?’”

Stewart’s group is still taking signups. Visit calgarybiketoschool.weebly.com to get involved.