La Center Middle School students pedal their way to fitness

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LA CENTER – Middle school students in the La Center School District are taking physical education into the real world thanks to a state-funded grant that purchased 50 bicycles and a bicycle trailer for the district’s new bike safety class.

In early October, sixth-graders at La Center Middle School hopped on the bikes for a course in city riding. They learned how to signal that they were stopping or turning, figured out the correct way to wear a helmet, and rode from the middle school to nearby Holley Park using the city’s bike paths. Last year, this same group of students learned about bicycling basics on campus and next year, they’ll advance through the program and ride on city streets.

The goal of the program, says La Center Middle School physical education (PE) teacher Katie Kipp, is to help students learn the safest way to bicycle for fun and for transportation.

“We want them to know that bike rules are the same as car rules,” Kipp says. “First they learn the basics in fifth grade. Then they learn some more basics and safety rules in sixth grade and we ride for about half an hour down to the park. Eventually, we hope to use the bike trailer and go on a biking field trip.”

As this cohort moves through the district’s new biking program, grades under them will be starting in fifth grade with bike basics and moving through the curriculum. By the time the current sixth grade class at La Center Middle School is in eighth grade, all of the middle school’s students will be using the grant-funded bikes and riding as part of their annual PE class.

Asked about what they’ve learned in the bike program, a few sixth-graders chimed in on the safety tips they’ve picked up so far:

“I didn’t know much about bike safety before this,” said Alder Brigham, 12. “I learned how to work the brakes better … and that you should only be able to fit two fingers under the strap (under your chin) on your bike helmet.”

Dillon Barboza, 11, added that he learned an important “what not to do” while biking: “I learned to not wear headphones while riding,” Barboza said.

Three of the sixth-graders – Emma Seter, Lauren Fox and Jesse Smith, all 11 years old – said they’ve been riding bikes since before kindergarten, but only recently learned about the proper hand signals.

“I learned that you have to signal when you’re stopping or slowing down,” Fox said. “Your hand goes behind you to signal that you’re stopping.”

All of the students said they enjoyed this years bike class and are looking forward to traveling further next year.

The district received funding for the bike program thanks to the Safe Routes to School’s Bike and Pedestrian Safety Education Program, a collaboration between the Washington State Department of Transportation and the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction that promotes more children biking and walking to school.

In a letter to educators participating in the Safe Routes to School bike program, the program administrators say the class is part of what they “hope will be a lasting change in how students in Washington travel to school and around their neighborhoods.”

For more information about the state’s Safe Routes to School program, which advocates for safer walking and bicycling paths in school neighborhoods, visit www.saferoutes.wa.org

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