Learning how to ride a bike is a rite of passage many children take for granted — but not necessarily in low-income neighborhoods of cities such as the District of Columbia, where many parents may not know how to ride a bike or be able to afford to buy one for their kids.
SHAPE America member Kenyon’s cue came when DCPS announced a unique new initiative called Cornerstones, which assigns diverse curriculum projects to entire grades across the school system. These in-depth, engaging and project-based learning opportunities are designed to help students make critical real-world connections and narrow the “white vs. black, affluent vs. poor” achievement gap.
Physical education — often overlooked for its integral lifetime value — was a perfect area to target, and bike-riding was a natural pick. All second-graders would have the opportunity to experience one of the world’s most beautiful, bike-accessible cities on two wheels.
Kenyon chose second grade as the “sweet spot” — the age where some kids already knew how to ride and could be challenged to hone their skills, and others had never learned or were fearful of falling. With $250,000 provided by the District Department of Transportation, DCPS purchased a fleet of 950 sturdy, new Diamondback Viper and Mini Viper BMX bikes, plus helmets, and bike racks, which would rotate through the entire district in the course of the school year. Volunteers assembled the bikes; teachers took a day-long, professional-development seminar to learn how to teach bike riding; and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) stepped in to teach bike safety.
Over the course of several weeks, students learned about helmets and hand signals, how to assemble and repair a bike, how to pedal and balance, how to ride safely and observe the rules of the road, and how to negotiate obstacle courses and other challenges. After testing all possible routes for safety, steep hills, etc., teachers led students on a five-to seven-mile trek to a nearby park to celebrate their new-found skills, confidence, and proficiency. Some schools chose D.C.’s scenic Rock Creek Park, where police on horseback joined them for a picnic; others rode to the Capitol, where they had races with the Capitol police. When a unit finished in one school, the bikes and helmets were shipped off to another, until the entire district was covered.