Some students in New York city are donning helmets in PE class to learn a skill many of us learned in our driveways: Bike riding.
The New York Times reports that a handful of city schools are offering bike riding as part of the physical education curriculum. Costs and storage space (bikes, especially for middle school age kids, can’t just be stashed in a bin like balls and bats) are one reason only a few schools have bike programs. Too, some gym teachers “would prefer to stick with more traditional team sports.” Also, s anyone who’s met the pavement with their bike on top of them knows, it’s all too easy (especially when you’re first learning) to fall, and crowded city streets pose extra challenges for the novice rider (or any rider).
But as the New York Times says:
…it was precisely for safety reasons that one principal, Louise Sedotto at Public School 76 in the Bronx, pushed to get cycling taught at her school. After a 10-year-old student was struck and killed by a car while riding his bike after school in June 2009, Ms. Sedotto bought helmets for all of her 1,100 students, she said, and began teaching bike riding in gym. “It gives us a chance to teach about bike safety,” she said.
Unable to afford to buy and maintain a fleet of bikes, P.S. 76 reached out to Bike New York, a nonprofit organization that has recently been leading the two-wheeled charge to get bike riding taught in school.
Bike New York started in 2008 with a fleet of 30 adult-size 21-speed mountain bikes and 30 smaller single-speed bikes with 20-inch wheels for younger students to loan to public schools in and around New York. Bikes and helmets can be borrowed for three weeks at a time; the group also offers training and a bike curriculum.
The PE classes teach students about helmet safety, performing a safety check on a bike, starting and stopping, and using hand signals and judging traffic, the latter skills being essential for riding in city streets, though most classes are held in playgrounds or parks. (I hate to say it, but I also think a lesson in keeping your bike secure and bike locks is called for; bikes will “walk” if not locked up.)
Not surprisingly, the biking-in-PE program seems a success:
On a recent morning there [at Antonia Pantoja Prep Academy in the Bronx], Carisa Gaylardo led her morning class on a ride. While the girls cruised along at a leisurely pace, some of the boys showed off by riding fast with no hands as Ms. Gaylardo and another teacher yelled at them to stay “one bike length apart.” One student crashed, but no one was hurt.
“They’re just excited to get out there and do something that they haven’t done,” Ms. Gaylardo said of her students, whom she also takes on weekend rides. “One of the kids I took out last Saturday, his dad went out and bought him a bike the next day.”
Another advantage of introducing bike riding into the PE curriculum is that it’s an activity that emphasizes fitness over the competition side of sports. My husband and son Charlie are avid bike riders (they just got back from doing eleven miles in our neighborhood this afternoon). Charlie loves to bike for the sense of independence he gets from “self-motoring,” and simply from that thrill you get to be sailing down the street, powered by your own effort.
Of course bikes and helmets might cost a bit more than the usual PE equipment and schools have to have space to lock the bikes up. But the benefits of teaching lifetime fitness skills should be kept in mind. Who knows, perhaps students who learn to cycle might make a bigger push to be able to cycle one day to work rather than driving or being driven in taxis and buses?
Photo taken on the South Bronx Greenway by MajoraCarterGroup