Washington, DC Public Schools have started a new program to teach every second-grader how to ride a bicycle. Along with the District Department of Transportation and private donors, the school system has purchased 1,000 bikes that will travel to every elementary school by the end of the school year.
The Washington Post's Michael Alison Chandler reports that the District has rolled out certain "cornerstone" lessons aimed at bringing more standard and rigorous instruction to students throughout the city.
Brian Pick, chief of teaching and learning for D.C. Public Schools, says the lessons are being designed to be "memorable and relevant learning experiences." The instruction also lines up with efforts across the country to make physical education lessons more "accessible and useful" and focus less on competitive sports and more on health and fitness.
"This a lifelong skill," said Miriam Kenyon, director of health and physical education for D.C. Public Schools. "It's a way students can get to school and it's also a way they can exercise with their family. It promotes independence, and it's a good way to get around."
In certain wards of the city with high numbers of low-income families, having access to a bicycle is not possible for all children. There are also fewer bike lanes and fewer bike shops in these sectors.
Overall, bicycle riding in the District and its suburbs is growing with the addition of bike sharing and miles of new bike lanes installed in recent years. Daniel Hoagland, an education coordinator at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, says he teaches adults to ride as well. Reasons for never learning to ride a bicycle vary from having a bad experience as a child and never picking up the skill or coming from an area or country where bike riding is not common.
Beginning the instruction in the second grade was chosen because the curriculum includes lessons on coordination and balance matched with an age where children are not so afraid of falling. By second grade, many students have already learned to ride and can help their fellow students learn.
Students also learn bike safety such as the importance of wearing a helmet, how to use hand signals, and other rules for safe riding on city streets or neighborhood paths.
Kenyon began preparing for the new school year before the doors of the city's school were thrown open, says Amanda Kolson Hurley, writing for CityLab. She was in a warehouse in the city's Northeast quadrant and was surrounded by bikes. Kenyon and a group of volunteers were building Diamondback Vipers and Mini Vipers, 16- and 20-inch kid's styles.
"They're BMX bikes, so they're really sturdy and they're made for multiple uses," explains Kenyon."
Cornerstones that made it all happen. One of the main aims of the miniature curriculum is to lessen the gap between affluent and poor, white and black students. Kenyon saw her opportunity and grabbed it.
The program will develop by having the bikes stay in the first set of schools for several weeks. They will move to another set of schools several times until the end of the school year. Kenyon has ordered another 475 bikes with DCPS funding, so the time will come when there will be enough to serve half the schools in the fall and the other half of schools in the spring.
Many of the fifth grade kids have attended the Washington Area Bicycle Association bike safety programs, but some do not have actual cycling experience, writes Caitlin Giddings for Bicycling. Kenyon wants to make it easier for kids to have bicycles.
"Once we teach everyone how to ride a bike and they go on a ride, hopefully kids will want a bike. If they can't afford it, we'll have some resources to give them more opportunities to get a bike at a cheaper price or through donation."
Brinton Parker writes for PopSugar that teaching kids to ride will make children try new challenges, no matter what they are, and find that they are "as easy as riding a bike."