By Jasmine Acuna
To promote physical exercise and community involvement, students, parents and teachers of Charter School of Morgan Hill enjoy an annual spring tradition of peddling on a seven-mile bike ride as a group along the rural Coyote Creek Trail stretching north from Morgan Hill. About 120 students participated in the May 21 ride.
“This is a really fun event. My kids look forward to this,” said Christie Mortensen, a Charter School parent whose son Jacob Mortensen, a fifth grader, biked to the school. “He’s really excited about it. This is probably the fourth year that he’s ridden. Charter School loves getting kids physical and they thrive on it.”
Russ Chagnon, Charter School’s physical education teacher, started the group ride-to-school tradition about eight years ago. The campus is part of the Morgan Hill Unified School District and is located in south San Jose near Bailey Avenue in the rural Coyote Valley. The paved Coyote Creek Trail runs near the school.
“I thought it would be good exercise for the kids to ride their bikes to school because the school is so far from town, most people drive their cars,” Chagnon said. “When I was a kid, we always walked or rode our bikes. So I wanted it to be a bit nostalgic for kids to ride their bikes to school.”
A Charter School physical education teacher for 11 years, Chagnon said biking is great exercise for young people and it’s fun for them to be outdoors exploring nature. On the trail, the riders have an opportunity to see wildlife such as bobcats, rattlesnakes, turkeys and coyotes, he said.
“It’s unique for us in that the way we ride to school is along a beautiful trail instead of city streets,” he said. “Most people don’t have that opportunity to ride to school on a (nature) trail.”
Students exercising their bodies through cycling and getting a new appreciation for the natural environment through observing the rural landscape are two benefits from the ride, said Jennifer Miller, a Charter School teacher and the parent of Mason Miller who attends first grade. This year was the first time he rode on the trail for the event, which began at 6:45 a.m.
“Our family bikes multiple times a week,” she said. “My kids ride pretty much every day and they love it. My son was really excited to do this event. He wasn’t excited about waking up early but he was very excited to come – and he was very excited when he heard his teacher was going to be doing it.”
Philip Strenfel participated riding with his son Kyle on a tandem bicycle. The first grader said he was excited about the adventure because he likes riding. “I’ve never done it before,” he said.
“I’m surprised that they had this many (participants),” Strenfel said. “This is early for the kids. It’s hard to get the kids up normally. We have a tandem so we can bike as a family.”
The annual event gives Charter School students an opportunity to bike to school safely, said Principal Paige Cisewski.
“We had some teachers who would regularly ride their bikes to school each day along the Coyote Creek – Hellyer Trail, which runs right behind our school,” she said. “They thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have our students bike with us.’ ”
Biking to school fits with the school’s philosophy and values, she said.
“It demonstrates to our students that getting fit can be fun,” she said “It also brings students, parents and teachers together and helps strengthen our school’s community atmosphere.”
Jasmine Acuna is an eighth-grade student at Charter School in Morgan Hill. She will be attending Christopher High School in Gilroy in the fall. She wrote this story for Morgan Hill Life under the tutelage of Marty Cheek and Robert Airoldi.
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