SPS ‘Let’s Go Program Prepares Southern Students to Become Bicycle Commuters
by Ari Robin McKenna
In early November, a large green trailer pulled, parked and disgorged dozens of children’s blue bikes at Louisa Boren STEM K-8 (LB STEM) in West Seattle, the first of 71 Seattle Public Schools (SPS) elementary schools to benefit of the Let’s go cycling program this year.
Over the next three weeks, students in Grades 3 to 5 will learn everything they need to know about how to get to school by bike on their own. A press release from SPS states: âIn addition to the fundamental physical principles of helmet safety, balance, steering, pedaling and stopping, Let’s go teaches children the rules of safe and courteous driving and the skills to cross a street at intersections.
Cascade Bicycle Club – a statewide bicycle advocacy group whose many youth cycling initiatives include Project Major Taylor, Cycle to School Month, horseback riding lessons and maintenance and various summer camps – provides the curriculum for SPS physical education (PE) educators, who use their relationships with students from their buildings to ensure it lands.
Paul TolmÃ©, media manager of the Cascade Bicycle Club, who stopped by LB STEM on an electric bike to help unload the blue bikes, said: âBikes are just happiness, aren’t they? â¦ As a child, learning to ride a bicycle is also this feeling of freedom and liberation. So you can explore a little further, you can learn about your neighborhood.
Tim Avery, LB STEM PE teacher, explains how he will begin to prepare students for the freedom that cycling can offer. âCycling in the city can be a little intimidating because you have to understand the traffic patterns and the level crossingâ¦ and how to coexist with the cars on the public roadâ¦ So we have the possibility to simulate pedestrian crossings, to simulate exactly where you should be looking, what the hand signals are and all to make children feel safe. Although initially nervous about cycling to school, Avery marvels at how many of his students are âbreaking through that barrierâ during the program and remarks, âIt’s something I’m so excited to do. pass on to children. “
LB STEM director Ben Ostrom, himself a daily bicycle commuter, says he considers the educational benefits for students to be twofold. First of all, the bicycle awakens the brain of the pupils. Ostrom also notices that it boosts their readiness for school and says, âFor kids, the organizational part of having to pull themselves togetherâ¦ There’s no doubt that you are organizing yourself to start the school day on the right foot and on the right foot. good foot. foot. We would like to see more children riding bikes on a regular basis.
âAnd it’s going to happen,â says Lori S. Dunn, K-12 physical education manager. north – to each elementary school in the SPS system learning from a harmonized curriculum. Award-winning PE administrator says: “Let’s go is particularly impacting for students who would otherwise not have access to bicycles. It is an equity initiative as well as a basic education and life learning program.
Soon the program will expand. Go further will follow the program until the end of the eighth year, starting within three years.
Since inclusion is at the heart of Dunn’s vision for the program, Let’s go also guarantees access for students with disabilities. Partnering with Outdoors for All, they are able to ensure that three-wheel, four-wheel and crank cycles are available for those who need them. Dunn mentions that Outdoors for All “is coming about three weeks before [the program starts], measure the child [in need of assistive technology], see what help they need. And then they are part of the overall learning environment.
While LB STEM recently benefited from updated cycle lanes as part of the Delridge paving project, issues of access to the south end remain and are beyond the reach of Dunn or SPS. TolmÃ© describes the problem as “a lack of safe cycling infrastructure compared to other parts of town … It’s a legacy that Cascade [Bicycle Club] trying to help the city overcome, because everyone deserves a safe place to ride, not just the wealthy.
In an e-mail to emeraldSeattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) media manager Ethan Bergerson said, âCycling safety education is an important part of the puzzle, but it’s also critical that we build safer routes to schools and other routes where it is safe for children to learn to ride. This is especially true in South Seattle, where historic choices have resulted in gaps in our cycling network and many roads that would benefit from safety improvements for people who cycle, walk and ride. “
Asked specifically when better bike rides will be available for South End students, Bergerson is able to point to a range of ongoing projects. âWe have started to build cycle networks with the Columbian Way and the Swift / Myrtle / Othello protected cycle lanes and the Rainier Valley Greenway. By the end of 2024, SDOT will have built the Martin Luther King Protected Cycle Lane, the Georgetown to South Park connection, [and] the Beacon Hill Beacon bike path as well as a multitude of neighborhood greenways connecting communities to schools.
In the meantime, SDOT is giving mini-grants of $ 1,000 to communities who have ideas on how to improve safety around school buildings as part of their Safe Routes to School initiative. Additionally, parents and guardians who do not have access to adequate resources can request a bicycle for their children from Bike Works’ Bikes-For-All program and can get helmets from the Cascade Bicycle Club for $ 10.
After a 19-month hiatus due to COVID-19 which also saw sales of children’s bikes increase 100% nationwide, Let’s go takes over the empowerment of bicycle commuters in an altered context. With much-needed improvements in the South End, hopefully providing additional sustainability, schools risk seeing their bike racks fill up after all.
Ari Robin McKenna worked as an educator and program developer in Brooklyn, NY; Douala, Cameroon; Busan, South Korea; Quito, Ecuador; and Seattle, WA before moving to South Seattle. He writes about education for the emerald. Contact him here.
?? Featured Image: A student from Louisa Boren STEM K-8 Elementary School at her first bicycle safety lesson. (Photo: Teresa Scribner, SPS)
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