Middletown Schools Bike Program teaching kids the fundamentals from an early age

MIDDLETOWN — An elementary school program that provides students with the exposure, knowledge and hands-on practice of safe bicycle riding is set to expand this spring after a thriving start.

The Cycling Education Initiative is a new unit in the physical education curriculum for elementary school students in the district. Physical education teacher Shamika Jackson piloted the program with her fourth and fifth graders at Farm Hill Elementary School in the fall and said it turned out to be a success.

“[They] did a phenomenal job and really enjoyed being on the bikes. The amount of excitement and anticipation by both staff and students was incredible,” Jackson said.

The youngsters started with hands-on learning stations, including helmet sizing and fit, learning certain parts of the bike, riding safety, shifting and braking. Then they practiced starting and stopping, as well as using proper signage, crossing obstacles such as train tracks, and reading traffic signs using an obstacle course. outside.

“Students who needed more start or stop practice worked inside the course and gained so much confidence,” Jackson said.

She said one of the things that stood out to her was the confidence and bravery the students displayed.

“I had a majority of students with some driving experience, but then I had several who had no experience. Between encouragement from my classmates and reassurance from myself, these students improved over time during the unit,” Jackson said.

The class ended with a half-mile ride from Farm Hill to the Pat Kidney Complex. Students and staff were joined by Middletown police officers on their own bicycles.

Robert Smernoff, district PE/health manager, said this final race was the highlight of the program.

“The highlight, without a doubt, was the last day of the unit when the classes toured the neighborhood escorted by members of the Middletown Police Department, other Farm Hill staff and other members of the community,” Smernoff said.

He praised Jackson and other school staff for helping to set up and run the program.

“The key to making this program happen is having staff willing to put in countless hours and step out of their comfort zone to introduce something new to our students, as well as having incredible support. from the community, building managers and central office,” Smernoff said.

Smernoff went into more detail about what went into making this program happen, starting with the district purchasing 65 bikes over the summer, followed by the application and approval of a grant from BikeWalkCT, a non-profit organization whose goal is to make Connecticut a better place to bike and walk.

This grant provided a free professional development course to all elementary physical education teachers in the district, along with program booklets provided to each participant.

Now, after a successful pilot, Smernoff said the program will be rolled out to the rest of elementary schools. “We hope to have all eight elementary schools involved by the end of the school year,” he said.

Jackson said she hopes it doesn’t end there.

“A personal goal of mine is to build the bike program by exposing our students to bike skills and safety knowledge at an even younger age – specifically by getting strider balance bikes for grade school students. Kindergarten to 1st grade,” Jackson said.

Wiley C. Thompson