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Connecting the Dots

"I forgot how much fun riding a bike is!" 

The Maine snow has departed, and Riding For Focus' spring 2019 session is finally underway! For this session we decided to focus on 7th grade students since their schedule allows them to ride for an hour at the start of the day. What a difference it makes to have more time! We are able to dive deep on the lessons in the curriculum which allows us to move through them more quickly. Once the kids are "road ready" and it's time to leave campus, we will be able to cover some ground. I am already planning routes that will take us to beautiful spots that were previously out of reach because of time constraints. 
May is also National Bicycle Month, and today is National Ride Your Bike to School Day. As an incentive, we gave every kid who rode their bike to school a sticker upon arrival and a choice of bicycle related prizes. Everyone who rode to school today  left with a water bottle, a light, a multi-tool or a bike compute…
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Bikes Are The Best

"Gym Class Is So Bad, Kids Are Skipping School to Avoid It"
"Not only does P.E. do little to improve physical fitness, but it can also lead to truancy and other disciplinary problems."

This article from The Atlantic popped up on my news feed the other day, and I felt compelled to reply. Having access to bikes and a comprehensive curriculum teaching students how to ride safely has been transformational for our students. It has, in fact, created the opposite effect of the headline above.

The sensationalized title of this article caught my eye. It both ticked me off and persuaded me to read on. I wondered, is P.E. class really that bad? Are kids actually avoiding school so they don’t have to go to Gym class? As it turns out, the title is a bit misleading -- its claims are based on the analysis of a single P.E. initiative in Texas from 2007 to 2011 -- and contrary to the sentiment of the headline, the article is not an argument against exercise in schools. In fact, the a…

Fun in the Dark

I love fall in New England. The changing colors of the leaves on giant maple trees create 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 wh…


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…