A safety program targeted for elementary-age students is picking up speed.
More than 4,600 students in the Edmonds School District have graduated from the “Basics of Bicycling” program since it debuted two years ago.
Since then, the program has expanded from three to 13 schools.
The program is a partnership between the Edmonds School District and the Seattle-based nonprofit Cascade Bicycle Club.
The Edmonds Bicycle Advocacy Group, which came up with the idea to integrate the program at elementary schools, along with Swedish/Edmonds, the Hazel Miller Foundation and Verdant Health each advocate the program.
Organizers would like to see one set of bikes at each of the school district’s elementary and middle schools. For now, they cart 30 bikes in a trailer to each participating school.
The three-week safety program targets third-, fourth- and fifth-graders as this is the typical age when kids start riding bikes without their parents. Fifth-graders in particular are a little more independent and allowed to ride around on their own, said Julie Salathé, education director at Cascade Bicycle Club.
This also is the age group that has the highest accident rate, Salathé added. Riding out of a driveway without looking for cars is a trouble spot for most kids.
Another focus is reminding kids to come to a complete stop at stop signs. Some youths see the sign and think about it but don’t react as there are multiple steps for a young mind to string together, the lessons teach.
The lessons are intended to teach students how to anticipate and respond to such situations.
Students learn to ride in a straight line, dodge foam rocks, look over their shoulder for cars before changing lanes and do these tasks without swerving into traffic.
The stories about students who learned to ride and then went home and told their parents they need a bike make Salathé want to continue the program and expand.
A pilot program with a more advanced curriculum and longer course was tested for middle school students at Madrona and Maplewood schools.
“At some point, we would like approval from Edmonds School District to take them on the road,” Salathé said.
The program is intended not only to instill safety knowledge but to encourage youths to enjoy a lifelong healthy habit. Some students ride a bike for the first time during the safety program. Before and after tests for the students show improvement with their safety knowledge.
“The hope is that if kids get into this habit, they’ll carry it on into adulthood,” Salathé said. “We like biking, obviously, and our mission is to improve our community with bicycling and doing it safely.”
About 10 percent of the students in the classes don’t know how to ride a bike, so part of the curriculum covers learning how to ride to get students up to speed, Salathé said.
Some volunteers and teachers make extra time during the day to help these students practice. Last year, 1,000 students learned how to ride a bicycle.
“They’re motivated by seeing other kids doing it and it’s cool to see that,” Salathé said.
The curriculum was scripted by the Cascade Bicycle Club based on a curriculum from the National Center for Bicycling and Walking, an organization based out of Washington, D.C.
Throughout the school year, the program rotates through select schools.
“When the program began with our first 30 cyclists, we were nervous about what could happen with so many kids riding at the same time,” said Jennie Hershey, a physical education teacher at Mountlake Terrace Elementary School, in a press release. “As it turned out, the students were excited to try the new bikes on the safety course and they knew this was not the time to go crazy.”
“The word about this program is spreading,” said Jenni McCloughan, a physical education teacher at Maplewood Parent Cooperative, in a press release. “Now I get students, parents, teachers and principals asking me about the program and wanting to know how they can get involved.”