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Pinehaven School has a set of brand new bike tracks in their grounds.

A learning tool, a confidence builder and a catalyst for behaviour change, the tracks have made a big impact on resilience at the school and have been a natural fit with the Enviroschools Guiding Principles of Sustainable Communities and Learning for Sustainability.

There used to be a community-built pump track close to the school grounds, but due to lack of maintenance, it is no longer usable. A keen mountain biking Pinehaven School parent suggested the school construct bike tracks on their own grounds. He had seen information about “Bike On” Charitable Trust’s, Bikes in Schools programme online. The programme builds bike tracks to help schools to get more students riding bikes for health, confidence and fitness. Pinehaven School's grounds have always been popular outside of school hours, and staff were keen to build on this. After seeing how bike tracks work at schools in Hawkes Bay, and with the support of the school community behind them, the Board of Trustees agreed.

The school spent a year raising $50,000 for the new tracks which were ready for riding in term 1 2015.

There are three tracks: a 500 metre loop, an obstacle track and a BMX style pump track. These designs were chosen after looking at tracks in other schools involved in the programme and in consultation with a track designer from Bike On. Staff were conscious that a single loop track might not provide enough interest for confident riders, which the obstacle track is able to do. As well as the bike track, the school purchased 50 bikes, a storage container and a helmet for each student.

The changes at the school have been significant.

A learning tool

 Learning for Sustainability is important at Pinehaven School. Principal Kaylene MacNee says “We really see this resource as something that we can teach with in an ongoing way. We want to be able to link the bike track to some really worthwhile learning linked to the health curriculum and the social sciences – looking at how communities work together.”

The bike track has provided an ideal context to deliver aspects of the Health and Physical Education Curriculum and an opportunity to focus on key competencies. As soon as the bike track was built, staff were provided with professional development from Greater Wellington Regional Council to support them with skills such as helping students choose the right sized bike and helmet, check that a bike is safe, and then learn how to ride. Pedal Ready ran a cycle skills programme for students shortly after this which not only helped the children learn important cycle skills but also helped teachers feel more confident about managing children on the track. They also got the community involved by providing a session for parents to help them teach their own children to ride safely. Pedal Ready has provided cycle skills programmes again in 2016 and their programme is likely to become a regular feature of the school's curriculum. They are particularly keen to upskill their year 6 students in road riding to prepare them for riding to intermediate next year.

A confidence builder

Parents who didn’t believe their child would ever ride a bike have been surprised at how much their children now want to. A lot of the teachers have reported that children who have become more confident on the bike track have also become more confident in the classroom.

Principal Kaylene Macnee says “Our kids probably needed to have a bit of independence when facing difficulty, and I was guilty of it as a mother as well. When my son falls, I’m there to pick him up before he’s even had a chance to realise whether he is hurt or is able to pick himself up.” In the past the school would run out of ice packs every day because so many children wanted them for small bumps, but this never happens now because children understand the difference between when they have really hurt themselves and when they haven’t.

A catalyst for behaviour change

“At the opening of the track, we had 43 non riders across the school. They came from various class levels. On the last day of the first term, we had only five non riders remaining. One of these was a new entrant who wasn’t here at the beginning, so we have 39 kids who have learnt to ride in the first term!”

Although students are required to use school owned bikes on the tracks during school times, the confidence it is building is leading to changes in the way children are travelling between home and school. The school really feel their community is becoming more sustainable through this initiative. There are definitely more bikes in the school bike racks now than there were before the track was built, indicating that it’s led to many more children riding to school.

Lisa, a parent at Pinehaven School, has noticed that her daughter bikes to school more regularly and thinks that the skills that she learned on the bike track have increased her confidence which is why she is riding to school more. According to Lisa, “Initially she wouldn’t go near the pump track and obstacle track, and now she’s using them, and loving it. She’s really proud of herself. When I ask her what she wants to do on the weekend, she always wants to come to school to ride her bike.”

Sustainable Communities

The process of building the track and using it has helped build camaraderie in the school community. Kaylene says “Whenever I come in outside of school hours, there are always people on the track and parents often say to me - ‘Gosh there were heaps of people on the track on the weekend’.”

The project has also started influencing other communities. In 2015, Enviroschools held a professional development session for teachers at Pinehaven School. A teacher from Rata St School was so excited by the bike track, she told her principal and there are now plans underway for a track to be built there. The Enviroschools network is able to support links between schools such as this to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and experiences.

Reflecting on their progress as an Enviroschool

Pinehaven have demonstrated a wider commitment to sustainability by becoming a Bronze Enviroschool in 2015. They used the bike track to demonstrate how many of the Enviroschools principles having a strong place in school life, in particular opportunities for Learning for Sustainability and building Sustainable Communities.

Advice for other schools

“There has to be a commitment to use it and have it be part of what you do all the time. We use it all year round, we don’t let the drizzle stop us. The tracks are used for class fitness and PE programmes and lunchtimes for children to ride” says Kaylene. It’s important to let children ride at lunch time. Other schools Pinehaven staff visited didn’t do this, so they thought it must be really difficult. Initially they only let one class ride each lunch time and had designated parents helping to support this, however now they don’t need parents and have a much less rigid schedule.

“My other advice is to try to fundraise enough to do everything at once.” If the school whad been unable to fundraise the entire amount, they would have built the loop track first, and then the other tracks later as funding allowed. However, they are pleased that’s not what happened. “I think that if we hadn’t been able to raise the total and had only built the loop track, we may have lost momentum and wouldn’t have built the other sections, which have been really important in challenging our students.”

The school owning bikes is also really important from a health and safety perspective because staff know that their bikes are safe for kids to use and are well maintained with proper helmets. They also have a great relationship with the local bike shop, Upper Hutt Bikes, and when they have a big maintenance run Hutt Bikes’ staff will come to the school, rather than school staff having to transport the bikes there, which is really helpful.