Reading, Writing & Riding: Two Years on Two Wheels at Arlington Public Schools

Lauren Hassel Tweet us @APSsaferoutes/ @APSsaferoutes/ October 3, 2018 0 Comments

Lauren Hassel is the Safe Routes to School Coordinator with Arlington Public Schools (APS) in Arlington, Virginia. She is a longtime Arlington resident, parent of two APS students, heritage and adventure travel enthusiast, and self-taught advocate for active transportation at all ages.

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Did you know that Arlington Public Schools teaches second graders how to ride bikes safely? The program has equipped over 3,576 students with the lifelong skill and joy of riding a bike since it began just two years. Students will take these skills outside of the classroom on October 10 for Walk & Bike to School Day.

The days are getting shorter, fall is upon us, and the 2018-19 school year is underway for Arlington Public Schools (APS). The start of a new school year means many APS families undoubtedly had to figure out transportation routes and synchronize their schedules. Thanks to APS’ elementary bike education unit, some students considered biking to school for the first time.

How the Program Started

Now in its third year, the APS elementary bike education unit got its start in 2016 with grant funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program. That spring, APS purchased 26 bicycles, helmets, and basic supplies and equipment. Over the summer, APS’ Health/Physical Education Department adapted the Virginia Department of Education’s bike safety curriculum for Arlington’s second graders.

Health/PE Teachers Adopt the Program

By the first day of school in 2016, APS Health/Physical Education (Health/PE) teachers at seven elementary schools had signed up to teach the three-week unit to their second grade classes. That first year, nearly 1,400 students participated in the unit, some riding a bike for the first time, some improving their existing abilities, and all learning about bike safety and rules of the road.

Thanks to a 20-foot bike trailer for transportation and storage and incredible logistical support from APS Facilities & Operations staff, twelve elementary schools hosted the bike unit in year two. Many teachers expanded and adapted the program to include other grades. Purchase of additional training-wheel bikes and an adaptive tricycle made sure students of all abilities got a chance to ride.

Students Learn a Life-Long Skill

By June 2018, nearly 2,200 additional elementary students had a chance to go two-wheeling during Health/PE class. As one teacher stated, “Students loved this unit. Some students started biking to school while we had the bikes on campus, then kept biking to school after the unit was over!” Since 2016, a total of 3,576 elementary students from 19 schools have participated in APS’ elementary bike education program during Health/PE classes.

Before the new school year, four APS elementary schools hadn’t joined the program yet, but those schools are all teaching the unit this year. Then the bikes will cycle through all of the schools again, equipping the next generation of Arlingtonians with a life skill that—just like reading, writing and arithmetic—will serve them long after school is out.

The fleet of bikes have seen a lot of use but are going strong, thanks to regular safety/maintenance checks by staff and student mechanics from Arlington’s own Phoenix Bikes, input and enhancements from APS teachers, plus the unwavering support and bike-friendly expertise of BikeArlington.

Beyond the Classroom

On October 10, Arlington Public Schools are celebrating Walk & Bike to School Day. It’s the perfect day for students to practice the skills learned during the bike education program. It’s also a great opportunity for families to experience what it’s like to walk and bike to school together and learn about the many benefits of active transportation.


Photo Credit: Lauren Hassel

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