Santa Barbara Middle School Pedals Through the Pandemic

Riviera Campus Finds Creative Challenges to Keep Kids Active

Unable to do their annual orientation bicycle ride, SBMS students clocked 26 miles on their own, riding through the Ellwood Bluffs and elsewhere.  | Credit: Courtesy

Getting teens and tweens outside and active is particularly challenging during the days of COVID, so Santa Barbara Middle School (SBMS) — well-known for embarking on pedal-powered learning adventures — challenged students to ride at least 26 miles during the month of September, while they were still learning from home. (They returned to in-person classes in October.) 

The 26-mile marker is approximately the same distance students normally ride for their two-day orientation bike ride, explained Communications Manager Merritt Bauer. Since the pandemic restrictions shut down that activity, they decided to use the Strava App to challenge students and families to ride at least 26 miles. 

“Families were very into it,” said Bauer. Providing even further incentive, they had the kids vote on what the prize would be if they hit their total goal of 5,000 miles of activity within the month. “Prizes were everything from a dunk tank to having our headmaster dress up in a pink gorilla suit for a week, which is exactly what ended up being the winning choice,” she laughed.

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The challenge — which allowed other physical activities such as surfing, hiking, walking, and even golf to be logged — ended up exceeding their goal by almost 800 miles. “We had all of our families participate in over 800 individual activities, which I think is pretty incredible,” said Bauer. 

As a celebration when the Strava challenge was complete, and with strict and complicated health and safety mandates firmly in place, staff and students were able to do some bike rides in small groups. “We actually ended up driving through Goleta on our bikes and seeing a lot of SBMS alums and families who know our school and were screaming as we biked past, ‘We’re so happy to see you guys back on the road,’” said Bauer. “It was definitely positive feedback all around just seeing people in the community and our families who had just been dying to get our kids back together.” 

When they ended their rides at Goleta Beach, as promised, Head of School Brian McWilliams was there to greet them in a pink gorilla suit, jumping hairy feet first into the ocean with the kids on the final day.

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