Fourth grade, it turns out, is the perfect time to teach bicycle safety. Bike Walk Connecticut has developed a comprehensive bike education curriculum and, supported by a CDC grant through Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), is extending the training to area communities.
Developed with bike advocates and teachers in South Windsor, the week-long program focuses on the 4th grade because those students are old enough to ride and it helps them learn how to ride safely, how to check their bikes and fit their helmets, and how to interact with drivers. Some students have a basic familiarity with the rules of the road and have been bicycle riding for years; others have yet to ride a bicycle. The program offers training to students wherever they are on the bike-riding spectrum.
A train-the-trainers workshop webinar is slated for later this month, so that communities interested in the program can learn more about it, explained Mary Cockram, co-chair of Bike Walk Connecticut and a Hartford resident. Often it is physical education teachers, security staff and health teachers who coordinate the program in the elementary school, along with volunteers from the community, including some who are League of American Bicyclists certified.
Bike Walk Connecticut is a member-supported non-profit organization that works to make Connecticut a better place to bike and walk. The organization’s mission is “changing the culture of transportation through advocacy and education to make bicycling and walking safe, feasible, and attractive for a healthier, cleaner Connecticut.”
So far, in addition to South Windsor, which has been using the curriculum for years, the towns of Thompson and Mansfield have had teachers trained in the curriculum; plans are moving forward in Middletown, Canton, and Meriden, with Hartford also considering the program.
The bike program is hands-on and requires volunteers and instructors to teach basic riding skills and safety. The Mansfield group, for example, (see photo) includes bike advocates, physical education teachers, and community volunteers. In South Windsor, the curriculum is implemented in the entire 4th grade for one week. Those who don’t know how to ride are taught, and everyone is taught – with a hands-on approach – what it takes to assure safety when bike-riding.
Students who have their own bicycles are encouraged to use them, but schools need to have bicycles for students who do not. Some may rent bicycles for the program; others may choose to purchase a small fleet of bicycles that can be used for successive 4th grade classes year-to-year. Cockram said the response has been excellent – from school staff and students. Funding is in place for the teacher training program to continue into next year.
“We teach them how to pay attention to surroundings, how to check their brakes, air in their tires, how to adjust their seats properly, how to wear their helmets securely,” Cockram said. “We set up a course outside at school for kids to ride through and learn. We teach them about Stop signs, but also Yield signs, which most kids don’t know. And if they’re ready, at the end of the week, we take them out on a safe, not busy, local road with careful supervision for a short ride so they can experience real conditions."
Classes usually have about 25 students, which requires at least 3 volunteers to work with school personnel. Thus far, participating communities and Bike Walk Connecticut have been able to identify volunteers interested in assisting.
“The students have been enthusiastic about the program, and we’re hoping it can grow, and more communities can offer it to their 4th graders, this year and in the years to come,” Cockram said. Details about the upcoming webinar will be posted on the Bike Walk Connecticut website, at www.bikewalkct.org
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