Getting kids on bikes: the story of the Gastineau Bike Club

Dirk MillerThis is a guest post by Dirk Miller, the physical education teacher at Gastineau Community School on Douglas Island.

The Gastineau Bike Club had been an idea germinating in my mind ever since I became the school’s physical education teacher eight years ago. Part of my mission as a P.E. teacher has been to introduce students to as many sports and activities as I can, hoping that the kids will latch on to a physical activity that will keep them moving for a lifetime. Growing up in Alaska, I developed many lifetime sports and activities that keep me on the go, including biking, Nordic skiing, running, basketball and fishing. These were loves that developed early in life and have been sustained into adulthood.

At Gastineau school, I noticed there were just a few kids who did bike to school. Though we had two bike racks, there were rarely more than two to three bikes in them daily. Each spring, I would ask students, “How many of you have bikes and go biking”? Not very many would raise their hands. And as their P.E. teacher, I would send home monthly calendars where students would log their weekly fitness activities. Few calendars would include biking.

So when I learned of the healthy living grant program at SEARHC, I applied, thinking it could help me get more students on bikes. We were all thrilled at Gastineau when the school was awarded the grant. I worked with our two local bike shops before and after the grant award to make sure the infrastructure and the support was there to make the program possible. Cycle Alaska ordered the bikes, extra parts and equipment for us, and Play It Again Sports supplied the helmets. When the bikes and gear showed up in late spring that first year I soon had two after-school bike clubs up and running. In all, we bought 16 bikes, 7 smaller bikes, 7 medium bikes and 2 teenager-sized bikes.

I tried to keep the club small, at first, because I thought it was just going to be me leading the bikers down the roads to Sandy Beach and the Treadwell Trail. But I soon found that I could get volunteer parents to help and even enlisted older students to help me lead my flock down the roads and to the dirt path. The clubs grew to about two dozen riders. More than half of the students borrowed the school bikes, and others used their own bicycles, which we would check for safety before each ride. I’ve been doing the clubs now for two years, and it’s become a favorite activity here at school.

In addition, I began taking Gastineau classes biking as part of my P.E. program in the spring. We biked around our campus and as far as Sandy Beach. Each year, we end up teaching six to eight kids how to ride.

Since biking has become so popular at Gastineau, we also started a tradition of joining in the National Bike to School Day in early May. As part of Gastineau’s recent remodel, several new bike racks were added to the front of the school, but each spring, we get more bikers than our racks can handle and you’ll often see bikes locked to fences, handrails, etc. The loaner bikes were used in the Bike To School Day event, also.

Nowadays, you know it’s spring at Gastineau School when the robins sing, the leaves bud, and the bike racks begin to overflow.

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