Just over a month ago BikeArlington partnered with Long Branch Elementary School to launch a pilot program on bicycle safety and skills called "Wheels Wednesday". I was lucky enough to have an enthusiastic group of 5th graders who not only shared a passion for biking, but also understood the role biking plays in protecting the environment.
There were a total of 4 classes, an hour and a half each, with 2 sessions in class, and 2 sessions on-bike. I learned a few things about the new technology in classrooms (I wish we had a "Smart Board" when I was in school), and in return, they learned a lot about bike safety, bike handling and control, and most importantly, biking in traffic. I was very impressed by their ability to maneuver their bikes around sharp turns and steady the bike while they scanned and signalled by the end of each class. I tell you, kids brains are sponges - they are capable of much more than we (or maybe just me) give them credit for.
It was easy to gauge their interest levels because they all had a lot to say about their own experiences while biking, and were always eager to get on the bikes. But I still handed out a simple survey to confirm that they actually enjoyed the course. Not only did they enjoy it but some of them wished it were longer, and all of them said they would bike more often and feel more confident as a result of the course.
These are the results we were hoping to obtain from this pilot program. Not all kids understand the positive affect biking has on their health or the environment, but they'll do it because it's fun and (they might not realize it yet) empowering. Almost all of my students would say very proudly after each class "I'm going to bike home today", which meant they got themselves home on their own, without the help of their parents. Even if they didn't realize the freedom that biking to school gave them, I could feel the sense of pride they had when they boasted it to me after each class.
Hopefully more schools in Arlington County will support programs on bicycle safety as either extracurricular activities (like this course was) or as direct material injected into their curricula. Who knows, you might see a bike class crop up at your kid's school in the near future.
Zanna is the Events and Outreach Coordinator for BikeArlington. She wishes she had biked to school as a kid (it would have been way more fun than taking the bus). Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or visit the Washington Area Bike Forum.