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Adaptive bikes improving lives for Calgary Board of Education students

Youth En Route has provided bikes to half-dozen schools for special needs classes.

Students at Forest Lawn High School were able to do something on Tuesday that many other youths take for granted: Ride a bicycle.

The bike riding was made possible by Youth En Route, which has donated 12 adaptive bicycles to six CBE schools with the support of grants from Kidsport.

The bikes, said Youth En Route executive director Laura Shutiak, serve a much deeper purpose for the students than just fun.

“For these kids a bike isn’t something fun to ride on. It’s a piece of equipment for them,” Shutiak said.

“They can get around faster, they can use muscles that they wouldn’t normally use if they were just doing a different kind of activity, and so it’s a really important opportunity for these kids.”

Shutiak said that the interest in donating accessible bikes was always on the organization’s radar. The need became more apparent after the completion of other projects in Calgary schools.

“We recognize that if we were getting bikes to a phys-ed class that there could be people in the phys-ed class with different abilities that would need the bike, but in our scope of our priorities we didn’t have it right at the top,” Shutiak said.

“It just struck me as something that was really important, and it really fits with our mandate about empowering youth to be able to choose active modes to get around.”

The bikes each cost between $300 and $900. Youth En Route is about half-way through their Kidsport grant for purchasing bikes for other schools. They’ve also arranged for long-term loans of bikes to help increase the total number of bikes provided to students.

Youth En Route has also been able to keep costs down through the donation of time and skill by the Forest Lawn Seniors Group, which has assembled the bikes.

“I rode a bike to work for 30 years, so I really appreciate the bike thing, and that everyone should have one,” said Glen Bishop, a volunteer with the group. Bishop assembled six of the donated Youth En Route bikes.

“A bunch of us take bikes home to work on to meet demands, and it feels great actually to be able to do this to help and see what’s happening.”

Helping students transition after High School

Ashley Fortinski, a teacher with the Paced Learning Program at Forest Lawn High School, said that the bikes would be used for students with multiple complex needs in the classroom.

“They focus on learning life skills with us, learning how to navigate our community, learning how to do things independently like cooking, and this biking ties into that for exploring our community,” Fortinski said.

“They just learn how to transition into a traditional society after they’re done high school.”

Yasmin, one of the students during Tuesday’s phys-ed class, was able to ride a bicycle for the first time in her life thanks to the Youth En Route donations.

“She’s doing wonderful, and we’ve been able to suit her with a bike with three tires that allows her to build that confidence for her to try later on a two wheeler,” Fortinski said.

“Being able to be exposed to different learning environments and opportunities is so important, so it just warms my heart when I get to see them have success and an area that they might not have had success.”

Data informs decisions on how to help

At Forest Lawn High School, according to data provided by Youth En Route, the number of students who have never ridden a bicycle tops 11 per cent. This is approximately double what other schools report, at around five-to-six per cent.

“We do student travel surveys when we start any project at the school, and that gives us an understanding of what the needs are at the school,” said Shutiak.

“The number of kids that weren’t confident on the bike was another 20 per cent, and they don’t have the skills, they don’t have the ability to just jump on a bike and go somewhere.”

She said that the ability to have regular access to a bicycle is something that was also of importance to families with students at Forest Lawn High School. A car, and even a bus pass, is often out of economic reach for these families.

“A car is a luxury beyond luxury for many of these families. And literally, an $80 youth bus pass, which is the monthly cost of the youth bus pass, is a luxury that many of these families can’t afford,” Shutiak said.

“We have the data: 70 per cent of kids that do our surveys tell us they would use the bus more often if they didn’t have to pay $80 a month, especially if you have more than one youth, how can you afford that in your family budget?

“We’re talking about getting these kids bikes, getting them the skills so that they have ways to get around, because our city doesn’t provide it for them right now.”

For more information on the adaptive bikes provided by Youth En Route, www.youthenroute.ca.