How can you get a grant for your school to teach kids bike safety skills?
Katherine Dowson, Executive Director, Friends of Pathways (FOP), shares how their organization secured funding for a fleet of Strider Bikes to teach bike safety through their “Kids on the Move!” program in Jackson, WY, and surrounding Teton County areas to children ages 2 to 10 years old. She also talks about the impact the bikes have had in the community to improve the skills and behaviors of younger riders on pathways.
1. How did you first hear about Strider Bikes and why did you pursue a grant for them?
We have always done bike safety classes in the PE classes at local schools. Before using the Strider Bikes, kids would have to just walk and do hand signals, or sit on platforms with wheels instead of bikes and skootch around the floor.
Our Education Director Lauren Dickey said it would be great if kids could actually practice on a bike. But that presents several challenges, such as kids having to bring their own bikes to school, and some kids don’t have bikes. Lauren knew about Strider Bikes and suggested FOP pursue a grant from the Teton County School District No.1 Recreation District to help purchase a fleet of bikes and integrate them into the PE classes. That way all kids have access to a safe and appropriate bike they can ride for the program.
Sometimes there is a big discrepancy of who can ride bikes and who can’t by the second grade. Having them all on the same type of bike evens the playing field. It also saves the parents the hassle of getting bikes to and from school. In addition, the Strider Bikes are better than a pedal bike with training wheels, because training wheels don’t teach balance.
2. How did you secure the grant?
Raising money is always a challenge. It’s easier once people understand benefits of what you are providing. We knew from the beginning that we would have to invest some of our own money to show others the impact it would have. So, FOP purchased the first 10 bikes and tried them out in the PE classes.
The bikes were incredibly popular, but there were up to 30 kids in class, so eventually we applied to the Recreation District to help us acquire another 15. Fortunately, the Recreation District has discretionary funds to award to non-profits and schools, mostly for capital equipment.
We now have 25 of the bikes, in both the 12” and 16” sizes. Even the kids who know how to ride a pedal bike can practice and improve balance skills on a Strider Bike. They are also used by the adaptive sports programs for individuals with special needs, making it an inclusive program.
3. How have you expanded the program and continue to maintain it?
We worked with a local community foundation to purchase a trailer and now have a mobile Bike Lab. It includes an obstacle course of ramps, beams and cones. Besides the two-week PE programs at local schools, we also take it to community events, such as festivals and outdoor concerts that have up to 5,000 people. Thousands of kids have been able to ride a bike and learn bike safety skills through this outreach
Sponsorship money for the Bike Lab comes from local businesses and helps support the ongoing program to cover costs for staff and bike tune-ups. For events, we put the logos of local businesses on the trailer so it is good advertising for them.
4. What are the results you’ve seen?
It’s definitely working! We have found through the last three years that kids who have taken the class are better equipped with safety skills to use the pathways. They know how to signal, pass on the left, use their bell, and put their feet down at stop signs.
The program is instilling bike safety knowledge and early balancing skills that lead to riding a bike at an earlier age. We get the kids to be confident in the PE class, and find they have an easier transition to pedal bike. This is especially important if they don’t have access to a bike from a young age, when they’re more open to learning.
Koreen Sheridan retired this year, but managed the program when she was the PE teacher, and shared these comments about the program:
“The Strider Bikes have had a huge impact and helped many kids. Close to 600 kids go through the course each year. Some know the rules better than some of the grownups. The kids practice balance skills, do figure eights, go over ramps, zig zag around cones and learn how to obey stop signs and turn signals. They also practice riding around pedestrians and saying, ‘on your left.’
One 6-year-old girl who had never ridden a bike was scared and didn’t want to get on it. Being able to walk with the Strider helped ease her fears. After the class, her mom was amazed by her confidence and ability.
Overall, the balancing skills learned from riding a Strider help in other sports, so it’s a great thing for young kids to learn. We even do some strengthening exercises, by having them get on and off a bike, pick it up and turn it sideways, kind of like some local racers do in cyclo cross races.
Another great benefit is that the Strider Bikes are so durable and need very little repair or maintenance. One issue we had though, was that the school nurse was concerned about sharing helmets. So, we got a donation for blue surgical caps to put underneath them, for kids who did not bring their own helmets. We told the kids the caps were the same ones that doctors and chefs wore, so they were ok with wearing them.”
5.Why is learning to ride a bike and bicycle safety so important for young kids?
We’ve built a beautiful pathway system and want everyone to have access to it. Kids can safely ride several miles to school. The program makes the pathways more attainable for kids and teaches them to be a responsible user of our pathways, for both winter and summer activities.
Biking is an important mode of travel, especially until you are 16 years old and learn to drive a car, so it’s important to know the rules of the road and be safe and confident.
6.What advice would you give to an organization trying to secure a grant for a program like yours?
Make sure your school district is on board and is willing to work with you once you secure the grant. We are blessed to have PE teachers dedicated to developing cycling skills. If you can’t work within your school district, find a venue that is safe with a surface that is flat, perhaps a parking lot that can be secured from cars and traffic.
It’s something that is duplicable in many settings and it’s an important service we offer to the community to ensure safer cycling.
For additional information on the program, check out this recent article in the Jackson Hole News Guide, School district approves funding for youngest bike riders.