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December 7, 2008

West Somerville Students Ride with Confidence

By Delia Marshall

Mon Dec 08, 2008, 11:13 AM EST
(wickedlocal.com and Somerville Journal)

Somerville – Bicycling has been at the hub of an exciting program at the West Somerville Neighborhood School this fall. 4th graders, working with physical education teacher Neil Holloway and Police Officer Maryanne Man­fra, are learning to ride with confidence, and with a new awareness of how to keep safe and healthy.

Students came to their first cycling class with a broad range of experience, from veteran riders to those who’d never put sneaker to pedal. All of them were new to the safety instruction at the core of the CYCLE Kids curriculum. Founded in 2004 by Harvard cycling coach Julie Idlet, CYCLE Kids focuses on both the fun and the responsibilities of biking.

CYCLE Kids comes to gym class. West Somerville fourth graders pedal around a course to practice keeping their balance while signaling turns. These students have been learn­ing principles spelled out at www.cyclekids.org.

Rule number 1 is that nobody rides without a helmet. Manfra helped drive home this “no exceptions” approach with a three-part lesson. Taking a raw egg, she dropped it to the floor from shoulder height, with predictable results. She then covered a second egg in bubble wrap and dropped it: another disas­ter. Before letting the third egg fall, she bubble-wrapped it and then secured it inside a styrofoam cup. This egg, just as fragile as the others, came through unscathed. Manfra, who rides a bike as part of her community policing duties, then pointed to the styrofoam inside her own helmet. It’s part of the reason bike helmets save lives. Her students have learned how to put on their own helmets like professionals, adjusting the straps exactly right, and inspecting each other’s work.

Communicating with others is essential to safe cycling. During a hand signal lesson on Nov. 17, kids rode on a course marked with orange cones and prac­ticed keeping some one-handed balance. They signaled left turns with a fully extended left arm, and right turns and stops with a left arm bent at the elbow.

Professional cyclists depend on good nutrition and plenty of exercise. With the help of journals, WSNS students have been monitoring the foods that fuel their bodies each day. One class discussion got kids talking about whole grains and listing things they’ve put in yogurt smoothies, such as apples, grapes, berries and mangoes. They also talked about the benefits of being active during their free time, whether biking, playing sports or just running in the park.

Delia Marshall During gym class at the West Somerville Neighborhood School, Police Officer Maryanne Manfra helps fourth-graders practice their right-turn signals. Clear and consistent communication with motorists, pedestrians and other bike riders is key to bike safety.

Holloway, enthusiastic about the impact that bicycling classes can have beyond the school day, and beyond the school years, said, “These classes are adding another way to do something outside competitive sports, something kids will have life long.”

To learn more about this pilot program and to help support it, please call the West Somerville Neighborhood School at 617 625 6600, ext. 6440.

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