Grants put middle school students on bicycles

More students are enjoying the mental and physical benefits of bicycling, thanks to two separate grants awarded to our middle schools.

Whatcom Middle School was one of eight schools across the country, out of more than 200 applicants, to receive bicycles, curriculum and training from The Specialized Foundation. The grant included 30 Specialized Hardrock mountain bikes, helmets and tools, in addition to annual inspections at Fairhaven Bicycle for two years.

The Specialized Foundation seeks to help children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by providing opportunities for aerobic exercise.

“We believe that cycling can be an important part of a comprehensive approach to help manage these symptoms, while also positively influencing students’ well-being and academic performance,” the foundation wrote in the first issue of its newsletter, Riding for Focus.

Whatcom Middle School has been ramping up its Specialized bike program since the fall, taking groups of students on rides four days a week as part of the school’s extended learning program. The students learn basic bicycle safety and riding tips and work their way up to exploring the trails at Cornwall Park.

Some of the participating students have been identified as having ADHD.

“We know some of these students struggle academically,” said Jeff Coulter, Whatcom Middle School principal. “We felt this experience of riding would benefit them throughout the school day.”

“All students benefit from consistent physical activity,” Coulter added.

The second bicycle grant, awarded by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) in fall 2015, goes to all four middle schools. The $25,588 grant paid for 25 Trek Shift 1 bicycles, a bike trailer and professional development. Contributions from the school district and Parent Teacher Student Associations brought the number of bicycles to 35, acquired locally through Kulshan Cycles.

“Safe routes to schools,” whether on bike or on foot, is the main emphasis of the OSPI grant. Students in the four-week PE unit provided by the grant learn how to make sure a bicycle is safe to ride, and they start developing their skills by navigating cones in the gym. The final ride is a four-block tour of the neighborhood.

Not all students start out confident on a bicycle, Coulter said — even in Bellingham, one of the bicycle-friendliest cities in the state.

“For a basic bike experience, learning how to ride safely, it was a real bonus,” he said of the OSPI grant.

Shuksan and Whatcom middle schools have already begun the bicycle safety program in their PE classes. Fairhaven and Kulshan are slated to start the program in the spring.




Whatcom Middle School, situated in the middle of the dense residential Lettered Streets Neighborhood, has the largest proportion of students within the one-mile “walk area” of any of the four middle schools. Schools generally do not offer bus transportation to students within the walk area, so bicycle education is especially appropriate for Whatcom students.

By one measure, the two bicycle grants are already getting results at Whatcom Middle School. The number of bicycles locked to the racks outside the school went from 35 to about 90 after the grant programs started, Coulter said.

“Students are starting to feel safe and confident riding to school,” he said.


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