Clarksburg Elementary students ride bikes to school to reverse 'no bike to school' policy


CLARKSBURG -- Over the past year, eighth-grader Brian Boudreau and his fellow Clarksburg Elementary Student Council members learned how policy change doesn't come easily.

On Friday morning, however, he and 16 other classmates got to ride on a new path to victory.

The students have been working to reverse a "no bike to school" policy to enable students the option to ride a two-wheel to classes.

Though still working on the change, the Student Council, which has support from Principal Linda Reardon and Superintendent Jon Lev, successfully partnered with Mass in Motion to sponsor a Bike to School Day on Friday.

The event served as a prelude to next week's Bay State Bike Week and celebrates May as National Bike Month.

Seventeen students in grades 5 through 8 participated in Clarksburg's Bike to School, with school personnel, parents and community leaders, including Clarksburg Police Chief Michael Williams, riding alongside them. Some kids rode in from a mile away.

"It felt pretty great to see all those people riding bikes," Boudreau said.

Mass in Motion, which launched a five-year campaign with Northern Berkshire Community Coalition back in November, is a statewide movement to promote more opportunities for Massachusetts residents to eat better and move more in the places they live, learn, work and play.

Lev said he thought the event strongly demonstrated what the possibilities are for the community.

"This gets the community aware. We're doing all these things first to present the idea in a thoughtful manner to the public," he said.

For the first time this year, the Clarksburg School Committee chose to have a student representative on the board. Boudreau holds that position.

When Boudreau proposed the idea of allowing students to ride bicycles to school, Lev and Reardon explained the procedure: Students would have to do research on the idea, weigh the pros and cons, and present their vision and facts to the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen.

Boudreau solicited the help of fellow eighth-grade Student Council members Brenden Piaggi and Evan Canales, along with others, to help research and create a PowerPoint presentation, which was then presented to school and town officials.

"We want kids to have activities to help the school be healthy," said Canales.

"Riding your bike to school gives you exercise, it also helps you create energy and keep awake and focused," Piaggi said.

Reardon said students used to be allowed to bike and walk to school, and did so frequently. Somewhere along the lines, the policy lapsed.

"Kids have not ridden to school on their bikes in 20 years," the principal said. No students have walked to school either.

The policy is not unfounded. Clarksburg is a hilly town with no sidewalks and no road shoulders to ride on.

"Our biggest challenge was addressing safety," Canales said.

Friday's Bike to School event was meticulously organized. Clarksburg Elementary worked with MassRIDES and Safe Routes to School programs to provide bicycle riding safety training for students in grades 4 through 8. All students planning to ride to school on Friday pledged to wear a helmet.

Shared-lane markings or "sharrows" were painted around West Cross Road, where the school is located, to demonstrate what the future bikeability of Clarksburg could look like.

"Our aim is to inspire movement and to help communities figure out how people can be safe," said Amanda Chilson, project coordinator for the Mass in Motion partnership with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

Boudreau said though the policy change is still in the works and he'll be graduating from the school soon, the work helped pave the way for kids like his younger sister to be able to enjoy the freedom of riding a bike to school.

Asked to give advice to other students wanting to change a school policy Boudreau said, "Don't stop. You might think it's going nowhere but it's going somewhere."


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