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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Public Schools teaching kids to ride bikes in gym class through state program

Learning how to yield the right of way, Linwood Elementary fourth-grader Caitlin Waidelich, age 9, on right, lets Maya Rosas, age 10, pass through a bike intersection on a course set up on the school’s playground Wednesday. The “Let’s Go” school-based bicycle safety education program taught Linwood third- through fifth-grade students how to ride and safely operate a bicycle.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

A statewide pilot project to bring bicycle education to elementary school students has arrived in the Inland Northwest, with Spokane Public Schools one of six districts in Washington selected to host the new program.

The Cascade Bicycle Club is leading the effort, based on its experience offering youth bike education to students in Seattle and Edmonds public schools since 2016, teaching more than 25,000 students about bike safety skills. On Tuesday, students at Linwood Elementary in north Spokane practiced their bike safety skills. Linwood was the seventh of eight elementary schools to host the program this school year.

The students hopped on bikes provided by Cascade and wore bright green or orange helmets, also provided by Cascade. There were a few different styles of bikes for different ability levels, including a few tricycles suitable for students with disabilities. They rode down “roads” marked with cones on the playground blacktop, practicing their directional arm signals and stopping at three-way stops.

The bike safety program is for students in grades 3-5. At this point in the program, the students at Linwood know the rules of the road. At intersections controlled by stop signs, walkers go first. After that, it is whoever arrives first who goes first or, if two riders arrive simultaneously, it is the rider on the right who goes first.

One student chided another who zoomed past her without announcing her presence. “Say, ‘On your left’ or I won’t know you’re coming,” she said.

Rei Tomlinson, age 10, was off to the side with a volunteer, practicing her riding skills. She previously did not know how to ride a bike, and when she was able to pedal a few rotations without anyone holding her steady, she beamed. “I did it!” she shouted.

Rei said the area near her home is too rocky to learn how to ride a bike, and she was thankful for the smooth pavement at the school that finally let her learn.

“I was actually going and doing it,” she said. “That was the first time I’ve ever been able to ride.”

Physical education teacher Fiona Zwiesler said that when the program began, she had 40 students who didn’t know how to ride a bike. Since then, 35 have successfully learned .

“A lot of our students live in apartments, so they’ve never had a chance to ride a bike,” she said.

Learning how to ride a bike helps students know that they can learn new things if they just keep trying, she said, and that lesson is not confined to gym class.

“It’s not just good for their physical and mental development, it’s good for their academic development,” she said.

Mikeal Balfour, fitness and health specialist at Ridgeview Elementary, is one of two people in the district overseeing the program, which was patterned after the “Let’s Go” bike education curriculum first used in Seattle.

The bikes have moved from school to school all year. By the end of the school year next month, eight schools will have hosted the program.

Next year, that will increase to 13 schools, Balfour said.

The end goal is to teach “Let’s Go” at all 35 elementary schools in the district, as well as at the middle schools.

Balfour was excited about what the program would bring to students, including his fourth-grade son. While his son knew how to ride a bike, he now knows the rules of the road and how to ride safely, Balfour said.

“My wife and I are more comfortable with him going out on his own,” he said.

The Cascade Bicycle Club was selected by the Washington State Department of Transportation to bring the “Let’s Go” bike safety program statewide. Funding for the program was approved by the state legislature through the Climate Commitment Act.

Cascade trains physical education teachers how to teach the “Let’s Go” curriculum to students in addition to providing bikes and helmets, spokesman Paul Tolme said.

At the beginning of this school year, Cascade selected school districts in Spokane, Tacoma, Bellingham, Highline, Everett and Vancouver to launch the new program, as well as North Central Educational Service District 171 and Northwest Educational Service District 189.

The program also provides a way for students to earn a bike and helmet of their own.

At the end of the school year, more than 700 bikes will be distributed to fifth-grade students who have completed the “Let’s Go” curriculum within the six participating school districts.

Just as the program will expand in Spokane Public Schools, it will grow to include more school districts across the state.

The goal is to provide the program to 90% of all public school children within the next decade, Tolme said.

“We’re excited to be the implementer of this program,” he said. “There are not only health and fitness aspects, bikes can also be used for transportation.”