Students at Bailey Middle School posing on their brand new Specialized Bikes.
Meet a dedicated group from North Carolina working hard to get bikes into schools.
THE FREEDOM OF THE RIDE
Any one of us who loves to bike had that moment when we took off the training wheels, finally kept our balance, and pedaled forward without ever looking back. Freedom at last. Biking gave me the independence, confidence, and coordination that I so craved for the six years leading up to that moment.
While I grew up with my own bike at home, many kids lack access and aren’t so fortunate. However, thanks to Outride’s Ride for Focus grants and Strider’s All Kids Bike program, bikes are being incorporated into physical education programs all over the country to give kids that feeling of freedom and confidence that we all need in our youth.
ADVOCACY IN ACTION
Working hard to get bikes in schools in North Carolina is Cathy Matthews, Advocacy Specialist with Spirited Cyclist in Huntersville, near Charlotte. Matthews has helped middle and elementary schools in her community implement the programs that Outride and Strider have to offer.
In her first year on the job, Matthews teamed up with Bailey Middle School physical education teacher Stephanie Ford to apply for the Ride for Focus grant. “The goal of this program is to provide a healthy outlet for kids who are struggling,” Matthews explains. “This helps with their behavior and academic achievements.”
Bailey Middle was awarded the grant in 2018 and used the funds to purchase bikes from Spirited Cyclist. “It was very exciting for us at Spirited Cyclist to build and deliver 21 brand new bikes to Bailey Middle school for their new bike program,” Matthews recalls.
The impacts of the program have been massive. “[In the past year] the number of suspensions has decreased and grades have increased. I’m sure many factors contribute to this progress, but I feel the Riding for Focus program is one of them,” says Ford. “The other benefits I have seen are tremendous: increased self-confidence, increased social and spatial awareness, increased accountability.”
And the benefits aren’t limited just to the fun of riding, Ford explains. “Every student has a job during class such as safety, maintenance, teacher assistant, and technology, which includes wearing a GoPro while riding.” Students at Bailey Middle not only gain cycling skills, but also learn about collaboration and the work that goes into having a safe and fun ride.
HONORING A FRIEND
Matthews and the Spirited Cyclist team also helped get bikes into three Charlotte-area elementary schools by partnering with Donna Turner, a local who was moved to advocate for bikes in schools after the passing of a close friend who had a deep passion for cycling. “When J [Jeanette Martin] passed following a battle with breast cancer, I wanted to do something to keep her spirit and memory alive, so I started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for bikes [in schools]…” Turner explains. “We heard about the Strider Foundation through Spirited Cyclist… I reached out to [owner] James Good looking for direction on how to use the funds we had raised to honor the passing of [Martin] to bring bikes to kids in the community.”
The Strider Foundation is founded upon the belief that cycling should be available to everyone, regardless of their physical, mental, or financial abilities. “[When we learned] the approach and the impact of the foundation, my husband and I were literally moved to tears…it resonated so deeply as a way to honor all that our friend had embodied,” says Turner. In addition to donating bikes, the Strider Foundation also offers their “Learn-to-Ride” curriculum, which equips teachers with the training necessary to make learning how to ride fun, safe, and educational.
Between the funds raised through the GoFundMe and the connection to the Strider Foundation, Donna and her husband, Ed, were able to get Strider’s bikes and curriculum into three schools: Bruns Academy, Torrence Elementary, and Endhaven Elementary. Turner explains, “the longevity and impact of the program seemed ideally suited to have [Jeanette’s] passion live on.” After the success of this effort, Turner is just getting started. “We made the decision to try to raise additional funds to sponsor more schools. We’re partnering with Primal Brewery & Spirited Cyclist to host a benefit at Primal Brewery in Huntersville on March 21st,” Turner says.
ANYONE CAN DO IT
Bikes offer kids the opportunity to exercise, learn, and gain a sense of freedom and confidence, regardless of their home life or background. “Bikes are independence, confidence and fun all rolled into one,” Turner says. “We’ve seen how quickly the confidence grows, and how much fun a kid can have doing something [many of us] were blessed to have taken for granted. We’d love to see every kid have the opportunity to learn and have fun at the same time.” Matthews, Ford, and Turner all have shown that with some serious dedication and collaboration, getting bikes and cycling curriculum into schools is possible. With organizations like Strider and Outride working hard to team up with schools, bike shops, and everyday people, we could be looking at a future where all kids have access to ride a bike.
If you’re interested in advocating for bikes in schools, reach out to your nearest bike shop. Many bike shops have information on grants and programs that make bikes more accessible.