A small rural primary school is hoping to lead the way for the rest of the country with a cycling project that encourages children to adapt to a more sustainable way of getting to school.
Children from Fourth Class and older at Scoil Molaise, at Old Leighlin, Co. Carlow have just completed a challenge that called on them to cycle to school at least 20 times before the Christmas holidays.
Parents have been on hand to supervise the cycle in a bid to alleviate concerns that it is not safe for children to ride their bikes to school.
Once they get to school, the children calculate the carbon emissions saved as a consequence of their decision to cycle to class.
The scheme is the brainchild of Michael Nolan, founder of Molaise Wheelers, the local cycle club.
“Since my own kids started school it has always been a great annoyance to me the amount of cars that clog up the school every day at drop off and pick up times, coupled with a completely empty bicycle shed,” he said.
“Many of the kids’ and families’ homes are within spitting distance of the school gates. When I attended school the bike sheds were full to capacity.
I spoke to a few other parents and afterwards I felt that a lot of them thought it was too dangerous to have their kids out on bikes.
“We didn’t feel there was merit in this but obviously there were safety concerns.
“As a trial run I talked my own young lad and two neighbours' kids into cycling the 1.3 miles up and back any day the weather permitted.
“Once the other kids saw the boys doing this and the fun and freedom they were having, very soon after a few others joined in.
“Lots of days the kids cycling meant that there were up to 12 fewer cars parked outside the school and a full bike shed, which was a source of great satisfaction.
“To try and rationalise it all for the kids I made up a form asking them what model car they are usually driven to school in and the distance the commute was, we then calculated the amount of carbon emissions that weren’t being created by their choice to cycle rather than being driven.
“The feedback has been immense with even the teachers reporting that the cyclists were much more settled and focused having got that exercise in before school started,” he said.
Now many children meet at the local village shop “Lynch’s” for a morning catch up before hitting the road to finalise the trip to school, and several of those involved cycle regardless of the weather conditions.
Those behind the scheme say its proof that cycling to school is a viable alternative to driving children to class, despite the common reservations of some parents.