CONWAY — With their helmets fastened tightly onto their heads, three Conway School employees made laps around the school’s tennis court Wednesday on shiny new bicycles.
As students filed outside for recess, the adults were the center of attention, with students wanting to know when they too could take a turn on the bicycles.
“There’s already so much interest,” paraeducator Andrew Townsend said.
The district is the recipient this year of a $30,000 state Department of Transportation Safe Routes to School grant, which helps teach kids bicycle and pedestrian safety.
“Things you don’t think about and you just assume kids know,” teacher Kim Turner said. “We don’t know that all of our kids can actually ride bikes.”
Awarded through the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the grant allowed the Conway School District to purchase 30 bicycles and helmets, as well as a trailer to store and move the bikes.
It also paid for the district to hire substitutes so Turner, Townsend and teacher Ann Penry could participate in a two-day training session hosted by Cascade Bicycle Club.
“We’re thinking biking is a lifelong skill,” said Rachel Osias, education director with the club. “There’s a lot to it and it’s interdisciplinary.”
About 80 school districts statewide have received a Safe Routes to School grant, Osias said.
“We want (students) to be doing this, but we want them to be doing it in a way that’s safe,” she said.
The Safe Routes to School program teaches middle school age students not only how to ride a bicycle, but how to do so safely by abiding by the rules of the road and using signals, Osias said.
“Hopefully these guys will go home and talk to their parents so it becomes a community thing,” Penry said.
Once the teacher training is complete, Osias said the districts have the flexibility to take the program and adapt it to their own needs.
“These are prime-time opportunities for community,” Osias said. “The possibilities are endless.”
In Conway, that may look like a before or after-school bicycle club, monthly trail rides and allowing students to check the bikes out for recess, Turner said.
Principal Tim Dickinson said the program not only provides a good education for the students, but it also includes fitness opportunities.
“There’s so many great trails in the area,” he said. “We’ll get to provide some unique opportunities for our kids.”