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Someone stole bikes from a Sechelt school, so a donor stepped up to buy them new ones

After seven bikes were stolen from the Sunshine Coast Alternative School this summer, an anonymous donor stepped up to keep the kids cycling.  

Students at the Sunshine Coast Alternative School will soon have a fleet of brand new mountain bikes to hit the trails with, thanks to a generous donation. 

Ever since Transportation Choices Sunshine Coast (TraC) successfully applied for a grant from Vancouver Coastal Health in 2018, the alternative school’s NDVR program has had at least 12 bicycles in a “bike library” for at-risk students to use. The NDVR program is made up of small classes tailored to students in grades five to seven who could benefit from a high teacher-to-student ratio. The focus of the bicycle library isn’t on mountain biking, but rather on teaching kids how to ride, develop their skills and feel safe and confident on a bike, said TraC director Nick Smith, who also works with the alternative school’s SPIDER program.

“The reason that we chose that program for the bikes is these were kids who often didn’t have a bike at home, often didn’t have anyone to teach them how to ride a bike,” Smith said. The bikes they purchased in 2018, with help and discounts from Elphi Cycles, are good quality and reliable. 

“In the five years we’ve had them, the bikes have got a lot of use,” Smith said.

Outdoor education teacher Tom Harder said some of the students have ridden bikes before and others are trying them for the first time. He sets up a bike course in the school’s adjacent field to teach them how to safely ride, before taking them to the Coast’s outdoor trails and Sprockids.

“They’re learning how to ride bikes well in conditions and situations that challenge them in a fun way. It’s epic adventure time, and they enjoy the time in nature,” Harder said. He takes students outdoors at least once a week, and that time is spent being active (kids can choose to hike or bike), learn about their surroundings and encourage a lifelong interest in active transportation.

For going on five years, it has been a popular program. Teacher Mark Villanueva moved to B.C. in 2018 and started working at the alternative school around the time the bike library was launching. “I’ve seen kids’ skills grow so much in that time — and even my own — so I’m really appreciative,” he said, adding that it gives the kids an outlet. “I appreciate everyone supporting us and understanding what we’re doing.”

Harder had slowly been accumulating additional larger bikes for older students to participate. In the summer of 2023, a TraC member produced a video showcasing the program — and then, in August, seven of the bikes were stolen from the school. Although two were later recovered with the help of police, the program was down by five bicycles. TraC put out a call to their membership for help, and received one used mountain bike that the students could use. 

“At the time, it was just devastating,” Smith said of the theft. “When I heard the news, I couldn’t believe it.”

For Harder, the theft was “incredibly disappointing” and caused a “wrench” in his educational plans for the fall, since he couldn’t meet the needs of the students with the amount of bikes remaining. Security for their bike storage has been improved.

In early December, a community member reached out to TraC and asked if they still needed bicycles and what size frames are required. The anonymous donor then ordered some through Elphi Cycles. On Dec. 11, Smith said, “We should have them in the hands of kids any day now” pending any holiday-related wait times. While students can still access the available bikes and are busy with more winter-appropriate activities such as snowshoeing, Harder said their riding season opens back up in spring, and the new rides will be ready by then.

“I was blown away,” Smith said. “And just to hear it was some local guy who said ‘This seems like a good cause, why don’t we all pitch in?’ [Who found] some other people who can pitch in and take care of this… I was floored.” 

The new bikes mean the program can continue to expand to the older students who have developed a love of riding, Harder said. 

“The awareness, I think, from what happened, made [people] realize that this is a really valuable thing for these students. The biggest thing is that many of these kids who love to bike don’t necessarily have access to those kind of bikes that can get them off-trail and get them into more adventurous settings. I’m actually teaching them skills to do like little jumps and berms, super advanced compared to what would be something they would normally ever do in their life at that age.” 

The students also learn how to maintain the equipment and repair flat tires. Harder says they give back to their community through trail building and cleaning. “They’re building confidence,” Smith said. “You can really see that this was something they could feel proud of, like, ‘I can do this.’” 

Harder has seen some of his students go from being adverse to riding to giving it a try to falling in love with the activity and wanting to bike every day. Being able to connect with students through recreation has helped them through other aspects of school, and encourages them to interact with their teachers, he said.

“[It’s] just that combination of what it means when they feel they can be in front of other people and feel confident in their skills,” Smith said. “In any area, especially something physical like that, that looks kind of cool. I think that just goes so far, because of the kinds of kids that Tom is working with, where they don't get the opportunity to do those kinds of things very often.”

“They might not necessarily ever, ever try to go into these areas on the Coast and just be living in their world and enjoying their world here,” Harder added. “But this has given them this experience that's much different than they ever would do, and hopefully it will carry on for them as adults.”

As soon as the bikes arrive, Harder will bring them to the alternative school and present them to the students. All of the students Coast Reporter spoke to about the bike program had the same thing to say: It’s fun.