Monday, April 18, 2005

Gifted students are on a roll with bike-donation program

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2005.04.18
EDITION: Final
SECTION: City
PAGE: B6
BYLINE: Graham Hughes
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
ILLUSTRATION: Colour Photo: Malcolm Taylor, The Ottawa Citizen / 'I thinkI'm a good student. I do my homework,' says Alex Santos, a Grade 6 student at Vincent Massey Public School, who will receive a free bicycle this year through the Kids and Values in Motion program.

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Gifted students are on a roll with bike-donation program: More than 600 youths to get new wheels

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For about a month, Alex Santos has been counting down the days leading to this Wednesday. That's when he and 52 other students at Vincent Massey Public School will receive new bicycles through the Shenkman Family Foundation's Kids and Values in Motion program.

It will be the first batch of more than 600 bikes going to Ottawa-Carleton District School Board students over the next few weeks.

Until about 21/2 years ago, Alex, 11, lived with his parents and older sister in the Brazilian beach resort of Guaruja, a city of more than 280,000, about 80 kilometres from Sao Paulo.

Since his arrival in Ottawa, the Grade 6 student has added fluent English and "quite a bit of French" to his native Portuguese. He did take some English classes in Brazil, he said -- about one a week -- although he does not rate them very highly.

"You learn it when you're hearing it and living in it," he said.

During an interview at his Smyth Road school last week, Alex said he found out about the program last year, when he was in a Grade 5/6 class and the Grade 6 students received bikes.

"I told my mom I'd get a bike this year," he said. "Then, about a month ago, she signed an agreement from the school, saying I could have a bike and that I needed one."

Alex conceded that his mother, a cafeteria worker, is a little nervous about him getting a bike, because he's never ridden in Canada. Although he had ridden a bit in Brazil, "I don't know whether I can still ride," Alex said.

His father, a laboratory technician, will take the bike home in his car, Alex said, adding he won't be riding it to school. His home is several kilometres away and he would have to navigate busy Alta Vista Drive and Smyth Road. He plans to keep taking the school bus.

"My sister, who's 16, wants a bike, too, so she'll ride it to school," Alex said.

He'll ride it on weekends in nearby parks until he's proficient. He then may use it for errands to nearby shops for his mother, he added.

Students will be given safety instruction before the bikes, equipped with helmets, bells, locks and kick stands, are handed out.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has designated 15 elementary and five secondary schools as "beacon schools," meaning they may be affected by low socio-economic status, cultural and linguistic diversity and students' readiness to learn.

Since a pilot program was launched in 2002, the foundation has donated more than 2,500 new bicycles to children chosen as leaders and role models in their respective schools.

Students with special needs who are unable to ride a bicycle receive a Canadian Tire gift certificate to buy sporting equipment of their choice.

The program, which encourages children to lead healthy and active lives, was designed for students like Alex. He's a premier level competitive soccer player on an under-12 team in Kanata.

"I like playing mid-field, on the right," he said, "because I can join in the offence and also help with defence."

Not surprisingly, Alex says his favourite player is Brazil's legendary Pele.

As well as summer and winter soccer, he enjoys basketball, volleyball, tennis, badminton and swimming and tries out "for just about every team at the school."

He skates, but hockey equipment is too expensive, he said.

But the youngster, who is aiming at a sports career, is not just a "jock." He's carrying a straight-A academic record.

"I think I'm a good student," he said. "I do my homework."

If he grows up to play soccer at the international level, he has no doubt about which side he'll play for.

"Brazil."

The Kids and Values in Motion program is a combined effort of the Shenkman Foundation, the City of Ottawa, the Ottawa-Carleton school board, and the National Capital Region YMCA-YWCA.

The foundation, governed by an independent board of directors, supports community programs, with a particular emphasis on helping children and promoting education.

During the past 10 years, the foundation has supported more than 100 charitable organizations.

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