The Bikes in Schools movement in six Porirua primary schools offers universal access to cycling as part of the school day. Louise Thornley reports on how the school communities achieved this outcome.
Published May 2021. This story is collectively owned by the Porirua Bikes in Schools network, with its production made possible by Porirua City Council. The council contracted Louise Thornley, who has a public health research background, to research and write this story.
On school fields in Porirua, the wheels of change are turning. A few years ago, many children had little opportunity to ride bikes. Yet recently, 37 students from Corinna School completed the Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon for the first time.
Khaleesi and Lydia, two friends in Year 3, did the triathlon together and supported each other.
Lydia says: “Khaleesi tried to slow down. She was tired, but I grabbed her hand to pull her on”.
All the kids meeting up in the boardroom this day say they felt proud that their whānau came to support them in the triathlon – and when people along the way called out to cheer them on.
The triathlon participation stems from the school’s involvement in Bikes in Schools, an independent government-backed scheme which supports schools to build bike tracks and purchase fleets of bikes. Corinna built its track in 2018, one of six schools in the area to do so.
As a result, the many Porirua children who don’t have their own bikes are now learning to ride at school. Bikes in Schools has so far supported Titahi Bay School, Pukerua Bay School, Postgate School, Holy Family School, Ngāti Toa School and Corinna School. Papakowhai School has begun its programme, with a concrete track now built. Four other local schools are exploring the potential for Bikes in Schools.
Corinna School teacher Sarah Rees says Bikes in Schools is “good for the children’s fitness, confidence and wellbeing – both physical and mental”.
Parents have said biking at school was the only way their children would get the opportunity to learn to ride. Children have grown in confidence and experience. Take Year 4 student Reiana.
One weekend, she and her cousin rode the Bothamley Park bike trail, linking Cannon’s Creek with Waitangirua.
Reiana says: “It was fun going up the hills, and over rocks, and it was bumpy. It was the hardest ride I’d ever done.”
There’s more to it than just riding bikes. Corinna Year 7 student Jeremiah is described by Sarah as a “kaitiaki of the bikes.” He’s a dedicated bike monitor, routinely helping at the track during lunchtime. Bike monitors make sure everyone gets a bike that suits, hand out helmets, run a sign-out system, do basic maintenance and pack down when the bell rings. Jeremiah says he pumps up a lot of tyres – a task he enjoys.
Titahi Bay School was an early adopter of Bikes in Schools. Principal Kerry Delaney says the bike track is used constantly during the school day.
The school hasn’t yet had a child who couldn’t learn to ride, Kerry reports. It can be tough for some to learn – there are tears of fear – but they overcome the fright and start biking on their own.
Kerry says new opportunities have arisen for students with emotional or behavioural challenges.
“When children are sad, angry or bored, they can head out for a ride on the track – and return to class ready to participate and learn”.
Many days after school, you would spot Chad riding his bike here. Though now in Year 7 at the local intermediate, Chad chooses to ride at his previous school for the track, relishing its large size – and its bumps.
Learning to ride wasn’t easy for Chad says his mum Shantel Croton. Due to disability, he only mastered walking at the age of five.
“Without the bike track, he wouldn’t have taken up biking. I think it’s changed his life a lot. It’s helped him enjoy school more.”
Ngāti Toa School is another place where the bike track is busy. The school’s groundsman Glen Robinson opens up the bike container every lunchtime. He says it’s really special that disabled kids use the track, like Mathyis and Hingano who are non-verbal with complex disabilities.
“You can’t imagine them on a bike because they have problems walking, but then you see them go for it – and now they ride on the track every lunchtime”.
There are further stories of students in the area getting help to learn to ride, and as a result, losing weight and gaining all the health and confidence benefits that come with a more active lifestyle.
Titahi Bay School’s bike track was built in 2014. Before then, only a few kids had their own bikes, and hardly any kids rode to school. Seeking change, a committee of parents investigated options to encouraging bike, and to start fixing up old bikes – helping create a supportive biking culture. They also fundraised by holding triathlons. Then they heard about Bikes in Schools and got involved.
After seeing Titahi Bay’s positive outcomes, in 2017 Porirua City Council funded youth development organisation Partners Porirua to support other schools to take up Bikes in Schools.
Back then, Rachel Scott was at Partners Porirua and worked closely with schools. Partners Porirua and Bike On NZ Charitable Trust (the Bikes in Schools charity) signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Rachel and the council’s Wendy Barry started regular Bikes in Schools hui and other discussions with schools and organisations (including USO Bike Ride, Sport Wellington, Bike On, GreenBikes Trust and others). Regular hui were held from late 2017, and are ongoing.
USO Bike Ride was instrumental in supporting Ngāti Toa (decile 3), Holy Family (decile 1) and Corinna (decile 1) schools to get their bike programmes up and running.
Three crucial success factors helped Porirua Bikes in Schools to emerge:
Those leading Bikes in Schools in Porirua agree that the principal, board members and a group of teachers, students and whānau all need to be enthusiastic and actively involved.
Groups of students have helped to design the tracks and each school involves students in a bike monitor system.
The schools also underline the need for whānau support. This can be a big ask in lower socioeconomic communities where parents are often under pressure and dealing with the effects of poverty.
Corinna School’s principal Trish Nash notes that Bikes in Schools helps whānau to engage with school. She says the initiative has boosted their school community culture, as it’s a great way to bring whānau together.
All schools and organisations say collaborating is crucial, as is the involvement of local community-based groups. Regular hui enabled collaboration: Partners Porirua and the council knew the community well enough to know who to invite, and had already established credibility and trust.
USO Bike Ride’s Chris Te’o says that for any community programme to work better, local people should be running the programme. They bring a layer of connection and relationships as they encourage families to have a go at bike riding.
Porirua schools report three main challenges:
1) securing funding over time
2) keeping up with regular maintenance of the bikes and tracks
3) ensuring longer-term sustainability of usage, especially given the turnover of staff and students.
A final challenge – for the network as a whole – is the need to enable and support community-led leadership, whānau involvement, and a culture change towards a biking culture.
Sitting in Ngāti Toa School’s staffroom, Chris Te’o reflects on the changes he’s seeing for local kids from Bikes in Schools. He says you can see their growing resilience – and how much their confidence has improved.
“Kids who didn’t get an opportunity to cycle now do get those opportunities – and they can take the skills, confidence and bigger goals with them throughout life”.
Titahi Bay Principal Kerry Delaney says the programme has effects beyond biking: “It’s not just about learning to ride a bike; it’s about feeling good about yourself. It’s probably the best thing we ever did in this school.”
The PDF version of this article has more detail on how to manage Bikes in Schools over the long term, with a list of recommendations for schools.