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Fun in the Dark

I love fall in New England. The changing colors of the leaves on giant maple trees creates isolated umbrellas of warm, yellow light as the sun shines through them. The air is crisp and carries the scent of wood smoke. The dirt on the trails hits its perfect balance of humidity after the first few freeze-thaw cycles. The temperatures are cool, but comfortable. There are no more mosquitoes. The only downside, really, is the shortness of the days. We are on the downswing now, and when I meet my 6th graders to ride at 6:55 a.m., it is still night. Today's sunrise was 7:13 a.m.

This presents some challenges, not the least of which is leaving campus in such low light conditions. So today, I took the lead of Libba, a fellow RFF Champion from New Orleans, and had the kids do a game called "The Circle of Doom" in one of our large, empty parking lots. We defined a large circle by placing adults on the outside of it. Kids have to ride continuously within the boundary of the circle w…
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Riding bikes at school is so much fun that kids will go to great lengths to get to do it. We are into week #3 and attendance for Riding For Focus has been close to 100%. Anecdotal reports from teachers and parents are that kids are generally calmer, happier and more focused since they began riding. While these aren't scientific findings, they are still worth paying attention to. 

Over the weekend a friend shared an article with me about youth programs in Iceland. The country had terrible problems with alcohol abuse and disengagement among their teenagers in the late 1990's. Introducing consistent after-school activities over the last two decades that got kids moving, interacting with each other, having fun, exploring their interests and challenging themselves turned the culture around. Today, Iceland has cut their rate of teenage alcohol abuse by 75% and improved the emotional state of their kids as well. In a similar way, Riding For Focus has been a lifeline for some of our ki…

Aaaaand...We're off!

It felt pretty natural to get back into the rhythm of riding bikes with kids again last week. I was nervous though; Barb Mills, my PE partner, is still out of school while recuperating from surgery. I have come to understand that one of the most crucial aspects of running Riding For Focus successfully is building a solid team to help out. When I found out that Barb would be out in the fall, I reached out to some other teachers and community members. Amazingly, I have two parents who are expert riders joining me each morning session, and a fellow teacher/rider/friend joining me for the afternoon session. In all, we have 42 students riding this fall, three days a week. 

Year two of teaching the riding curriculum is going smoother than year one did. I have a better sense of what to expect, and how much I can realistically cover during each session. I'm also the guy who works on all the bikes, so knowing them well makes it easier to do small tweaks while out in the field.

The kids are a…

California Dreaming

This summer I had the distinct honor of being invited to Specialized headquarters in Morgan Hill, California to help train the newest crop of Riding For Focus Program Champions and to present at the Riding For Focus Research Summit at Stanford University. When I got the phone call from Dave Wood, the Director of Program Management for TSF, I was (of course) on my way back from my local bike shop, having picked up a new cassette and chain for my road bike. Even though my summer calendar was already packed, I knew that I would find a way to make it out to Morgan Hill.

The entire event was so densely packed with information and amazing activities that it's difficult to pinpoint  one favorite part, but here goes. Meeting all of the educators from around the country who received the RFF grant and have a shared passion for embracing physical activity as an integral part of education was inspirational. Getting to know these kindred spirits and hearing their stories and aspirations left m…

Putting it All Together

Today was one of those special days when so much seemed to come together. We are in the middle of week #5 of this spring's Riding For Focus session, and we have worked hard on learning about many aspects of cycling. But we have also pushed outside the set curriculum. We have: 
Ventured onto trails to learn mountain biking techniquesRidden with bike-commuters during Bike to Work WeekCleared trailsShaped and rock-picked the pumptrackLearned basic field repairsBecome acquainted with the local trail systemMade new friends Today I took my eighth graders out onto a section of the Whiskeag Trail known to the mountain bike community as "Gnarcore." It's an appropriate name for this steep jumble of roots, rocks and skinny bridges. I was sure to bring my Wilderness First Responder first aid kit, and I required kids to drop their seats to the frames. I also spotted them on tricky sections and even had them walk the bikes in the most high-consequence spots. I was proud of their wi…


The pump track isn't just for pumping the bike. It only takes a lap or two to bring your heart rate into the training zone, flooding brain cells with oxygen, endorphins and Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a naturally produced protein that enhances the function of nerve cell synapses. In broad strokes, BDNF is released when you exercise, and acts like a cocktail of antidepressants and Attention Deficit Disorder medication rolled into one. Perhaps because it is produced by the body itself, it is more potent and faster acting than any pharmaceutical medicine you can take. 

Dr. John Ratey, a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University, has done extensive research on the measurable benefits of exercise on physical, emotional and intellectual health. You can read this short explanation of his findings or dive deeper by reading one of his excellent books or checking out his website. 

Thanks to Mike Sinyard (CEO of Specialized Bicycle Components) and The Specialized Foun…

It's Bike to Work Week!

Today we had the great pleasure of joining forces with the Bath Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee for its annual bike to work ride.  Around ten community members, led by the committee's chair, Kevin Shute, met us at school at 7:10. All told there were over thirty cyclists pulling out of Bath Middle School this morning. Kevin did a great job of explaining the benefits of commuting by bicycle, but really, he was preaching to the choir. These kids LIVE to ride bikes!
We picked up a few more riders along the way as we passed their houses. It was a quintessential bluebird, New England morning.

We are into our fourth week of Riding For Focus with this group, and they have come to depend on their time on the bike each day. Even with the slew of nasty viruses getting passed around this spring, our attendance has been excellent. 

We have also begun incorporating a bit of trail work here and there. There is a short loop of rooty single track just across the road from school that was blocked in …