Since late March I’ve been watching the baby bald eagle cam on Santa Cruz Island. They’ve grown from fluffy hatchlings, survived fierce El Niño winds, and soon will be ready to take their first flight. As a parent with a background in early childhood education, I understand and have experienced how babies become toddlers and learn to walk. A baby’s first step is a huge developmental milestone. Imagine if that first step was from the top of a 40-foot tall Monterey cypress. As the young bald eagles spread their wings, that first leap from nest to sky is huge journey from eaglet to fledgling.
Since 2012, The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition (www.sbbike.org) has annually honored three inspirational women with the Velo Wings Award for making cycling safer and more accessible to everyone in our community. This year’s Velo Wing awardees, Julie Churchman, Jessica Grant, and Lee Knodel (Mrs. B) lead by teaching, advocating, and above all else … by doing. They give children and teens the knowledge, skills, and self-confidence they need to spread their wings.
Julie Churchman is a PE Specialist at Adams Elementary School. She believes that bicycle education is an important part of the curriculum for her kindergarten to 6th-grade students. As Churchman teaches, she wants “children to experience they joy of riding a bike on their own for the first time.” She knows that “the smiles on their faces reveal an inner joy and that they have overcome fears and other roadblocks to acquire a lifelong skill.” Churchman’s hope is that each and every child that goes through the biking program at Adams develops a love of biking. (See www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCsJ16FPWcY&feature=youtu.be) As the children at Adams School get older, Churchman believes, they will use bikes as a form of transportation, a way to stay fit, and to explore the amazing world they live in. She also wants kids to learn how to ride safely, learn the rules of the road, and share what they have learned with others.
Churchman’s earliest memories of cycling are riding around the block with her brother and sister in the mid-Wilshire district in Los Angeles. Her first bike was a blue Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat. After that she rode a white Peugeot 10 speed to school every day 7th through 12th grade.
Biking is important to Churchman because it is not only a way for her to get around town but also a wonderful form of exercise and fun. When her sons were in high school, her family went on a long road trip through the national parks of Utah and rode their bikes everywhere.
Churchman pedals with Velo Wings for teaching elementary school age children the joys of learning to ride a bike so that they can be confident cyclists as they grow up.
Jessica Grant wants to “pass on her passion for cycling to others so they can create their own freedoms, experiences, and memories.” To turn that vision into a reality, Grant worked with Christine Bourgeois (SBBIKE) and Kim Stanley-Zimmerman (COAST) to create Santa Barbara’s first Bici Familia (Bike Family Day). At Bici Familia, families learn about the rules of the road and how to be safe, visible and predictable bicycle riders. Kids are fit with new helmets, or the instructors make sure that each child’s helmet fits properly. The kids practice riding their own bike or a loaner, and some events end with a neighborhood ride. Bici Familia sessions are a great introduction to biking and help parents, grandparents, and kids learn how to ride a bike, and do it safely.
Grant works for the City of Santa Barbara. Her professional career in city land use and environmental and transportation planning has allowed her the opportunity for the past eight years to work on capital transportation projects from project conception through construction. As the lead grant writer, she has been involved in many infrastructure projects for bicyclists and pedestrians. Grant is also leading efforts on the Eastside to address traffic, pedestrian, and bicycle safety issues.
Grant has many fond memories of biking with her family, exploring new places on vacation, or bike events with SBBIKE, COAST, and Traffic Solutions. Her most memorable experience is the 2014 CycleMAYnia Mother’s Day Ride. It was a short family ride from Tierra de Fontuna Park in Isla Vista to Coal Oil Point. As the 50 bike riders gazed at the ocean at Coal Oil Point, they saw two mama grey whales and their calves in the kelp beds!
Grant pedals with Velo Wings for teaching families to bike safely at Bici Familia and leading the City of Santa Barbara’s efforts on the Eastside to improve traffic and pedestrian and bicycle safety.
Lee Knodel (Mrs. B) leads the Dons Net Café at Santa Barbara High School. The Dons Net Café helps teens run entrepreneurial businesses including VITA, a free tax-preparation service; Design-N-Cut, a customized shirt company; SBici, a bicycle repair shop; Common Ground; Do Ubuntu; and more. Mrs. B’s work with teens is based on her dedication to the principles of Dr. Jane Goodall, to help people, planet, and animals. Ms B looks for projects that light a fire in her teens and get her equally excited.
SBHS’s cycling program began with a biking video produced by Traffic Solution’s Kent Epperson and Daniel Girard. Mrs. B was amazed with they way that this collaboration improved her kids self-esteem and how proud they were of the video. Take a minute and watch We Ride Differently.
The SBici bike shop has helped students learn bike safety, mechanics, environmental impact, the health benefits of cycling, philanthropy, and their impact on policies through civic engagement. Students have participated in cycling activities at CycLAvia, CyclaMAYnia, and Earth Day. Mrs. B says that the program has been the, “key to success for many SBHS students, landing jobs, travelling world-wide to summits, and becoming part of the biking community at Bici Centro and SBCC.” Students have become involved politically and learned the importance of being active in their community by working to support the Bicycle Master Plan process and crosswalks on Milpas. At SBici her students have worked with some truly awesome adult mentors such as Christine Bourgeois, Ed France, Mike Vergeer, and Byron Beck. They all share a true passion for biking, the environment, health, and the importance of community. What more could a teacher ask!
Personally, biking represents freedom to Mrs. B. Riding a bike allowed her to go on adventures by herself and to enjoy the exhilarating feeling of flying down a hill with her hair and troubles flying behind.
Mrs. B pedals with Velo Wings for creating change by inspiring young people at Santa Barbara High School to work hard, learn new skills, be confident, succeed, and ride bicycles.
Each of the 2016 Velo Wings awardees leads by helping children and young adults become safe cyclists. Julie Churchman, Jessica Grant and Lee Knodel/Mrs. B use cycling education and advocacy to give kids the skills, knowledge, and independence to grow strong wings and fledge with confidence.