GCAT - Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation

Guelph students lead the way….on bikes!

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Eden, Niamh, Meghan, and Trent enjoying a day out with the CELP program

The CELP (Community Environmental Leadership Program) and Headwaters program, run by the Upper Grand District School Board, gives me great hope for our future community leaders.

The CELP and the Headwaters programs provide an alternative learning experience for students. We know that the future of education lies in offering students more choice in their learning, and CELP and Headwaters does this in spades.

Here is how the UGDSB describes the two programs: “CELP and Headwaters are semester-long four credit environmental leadership programs that foster a sense of wonder for the natural world in our students, develop an understanding of current environmental issues, and teach hands-on skills in sustainable living while meeting Ontario curriculum requirements for high school credits.” These programs are available for all grade 10 and 12 high school students in Guelph. (These programs are also run in Norwell and sometimes at Wellington Heights.)

The local CELP and Headwaters programs used to be operated out of Eden Mills. Students were bused from Guelph, and enjoyed a “Huck Finn” style existence, where they had a more rural setting to play and explore.

However, due to the cost of busing, this location was no longer feasible. Not to be deterred, teachers Joel Barr and Katie Gad found a very practical solution.

CELP and Headwaters now rent space at the Unitarian Congregation of Guelph, where classes are run daily. While Eden Mills had its advantages, having the students stay in Guelph allows the program to be more community focused. The program can now tackle urban issues that were not relevant at their former location. For instance, the grade 12 students have been involved in a local community garden project and have led David Suzuki’s “Blue Dot” program for the city. The grade 10 students ran the grade 5 Earthkeepers program,  In the next school year, they will spend time teaching grade 5 students about biodiversity, as well as invasive vs native species plantings in our public parks.

While biking has always been an aspect of the program, this September, the CELP and Headwaters students will be expected to have a bike at school everyday. The students will take the CANBIKE program in September, taught by Evan Ferrari, a local, certified CANBIKE instructor. That way, the students can bike safely to various locations throughout the city. The city becomes the classroom, with different topics covered depending on location.

The CANBIKE program teaches students how to cycle safely and lawfully, and helps them develop confidence in their own abilities to get around the city. As Joel Barr describes, “Biking is still important in order to keep an adventuresome, exploratory aspect for the kids. It is a great way of increasing a form of transportation that we believe in for the kids.” Bike training also makes students better drivers, as it teaches the students the rules of the road even before they get behind the wheel of a car.

I asked some current CELP students to see how they felt about the program. Meghan, Trent, Niamh and Eden shared their thoughts.

All four of the students were unanimous in sharing that their favourite part of the program is that the students are all together all of the time. It makes them feel that they are part of a community and gives them a sense of belonging.

When asked how they feel about the biking focus, the students agreed that it was a very positive aspect of the program. Meghan, 15, likes biking because it is faster than walking. She adds, “Now that I am more confident, it is so much easier to bike places.” Trent, 16, added that “Biking helps with driving skills because you learn all the rules of the road. Also, before, you would be driven, now you know there are other options.” Niamh, 15, is now more comfortable on the road, so she will be biking more often. Eden, 15, is interested in teaching people who don’t bike as often, that biking is a transportation option. Eden attests, “At one point, we went 15 months without a car and it was no big deal.” He adds, “For the cost of 1 mile of a 4 lane highway, you can build enough Active transportation infrastructure for a small city.”

I am impressed with these students, and that UGDSB offers this alternative program. In this age where future careers change quickly with advances in technology, offering courses that allow adolescents to engage in activities that require independence, resilience, and “out of the box” thinking, CELP and Headwaters are sure to foster global citizens and community leaders that will make tomorrow a better place.


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