WASHINGTON, D.C. – District of Columbia Public Schools officials are embarking on a bold new education initiative: teaching all second-graders how to ride a bicycle.
As student proficiency continues to languish, district officials added the requirement as part of a joint program with the District Department of Transportation and private donors, who provided 1,000 bicycles for the initiative, The Washington Post reports.
The plan is to spend an hour a week for a month showing the elementary students how to ride as a memorable “cornerstone” learning experience, district officials said. The District currently boasts a growing percentage of bicycle commuters – among the top five in the country – while an opposite trend is occurring with low-income students in wards 7 and 8.
“We decided second grade is the foundational year,” Walker-Hones Elementary School physical education teacher David Gesualdi told the Post. “A kid needs this experience before second grade, and if they don’t receive it by this age, we are going to provide it.”
“Bike skills presented one of the biggest disparities throughout the school system, says Miriam Kenyon, director of health and physical education with DC Public Schools, with up to 60 percent of children unable to ride a bike in some parts of the city,” Bicycling.com reports.
“And though cycling was already a critical part of the district’s physical education program, many of the fifth grade kids who attended bike safety programs led by the Washington Area Bicycle Association had no actual cycling experience.”
Daniel Hoagland, educator with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said “surprisingly high numbers of kids” in poor neighborhoods around D.C. never learn how to ride a bicycle, mostly because their parents never taught them.
Some of those parents came from countries where bicycling is uncommon, he said.
Perhaps ironically, “surprisingly high numbers of kids” in D.C. schools are not proficient in math or language arts, according to the DCPS website.
Overall, less than half of students in the system, 48 percent, were proficient in reading last school year, while a mere 51 percent were proficient in math.
But instead of concentrating on improving those skills, D.C. students are learning the ABCs of bicycling – Air, Brakes, Chain – as part of safety lessons that also cover helmets, hand signals, proper clothing, balancing and other aspects.
The kids get an “I’m a Safe Rider” certificate when they’re done and go on a ride at a park, according to Bicycling.
“This a lifelong skill,” Miriam Kenyon, physical education director for DCPS told the Post. “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.”
“My friends know how to do it, but I don’t know how,” student Lachae Taylor said as she struggled to learn to ride at Walker-Jones Wednesday. “I wish I had training wheels.”
Other students, like Tyliah Rogers, already know how to ride and are helping out their classmates.
“My grandmother taught me,” she told the Post. “She said, ‘Just hold the bars, do the pedals, and keep going!’”
Officials told the Post they hope to eventually add a week or two to the bicycling program, one of several “cornerstone” lessons designed to “bring more uniform and rigorous instruction to students in every part of the city.”
Kenyon said the next logical step, of course, is to help secure bicycles for poor students who just learned to ride but do not have money to purchase a bike.