WOODLAWN — Middle school students at Carnegie Elementary could start learning how to safely ride a bike as soon as next month after an educator and students won a grant to provide free bikes and helmets.
Carnegie, 1414 E. 61st Place in Woodlawn, will receive 15 bikes and helmets, a curriculum and training for two teachers to lead students in the coming weeks. The school will operate the program for free thanks to a Riding for Focus grant, issued by the California-based nonprofit Outride.
Students in sixth through eighth grades will learn how to balance on a bike, maintain control, use proper hand signals, weave through obstacles and stay safe in traffic, among other skills, as part of the Riding for Focus program.
“There are schools who actually purchase this program,” said Franci Nimpson-Boateng, Carnegie’s International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme coordinator.
But the Riding for Focus grant helps schools like Carnegie — located in marginalized communities “where we might not have the funding to purchase the program” — access the same knowledge for free, said Nimpson-Boateng, who applied for the grant.
Educators hope cycling can help students relax and have fun, so they’ll have more positive energy at school, Nimpson-Boateng said.
“You never know what’s going on with a child and what difference the activities you expose them to can make in their lives,” she said. “Just to say they’re a part of our bike program gives them more of a sense of pride about themselves and the school they attend.”
With 15 free bikes for the nearly 200 middle schoolers at Carnegie, staffers will develop a schedule allowing as many students to participate as possible, Nimpson-Boateng said. Some may learn during the school day — possibly as part of their physical education classes — while others will participate in an after-school program.
Carnegie hopes to roll out the program in April, but that depends on when Blackstone Bicycle Works reopens in the spring, Nimpson-Boateng said. The bike shop and youth program, located next to the school at the Experimental Station, will assemble the Riding for Focus bikes, she said.
If the shop doesn’t reopen to start the program in time for this school year, it will “definitely happen in the fall,” Nimpson-Boateng said.
Several students filmed a video with Nimpson-Boateng for the grant application. Some shared their desire for “a release during the day or after school,” while others spoke to their families’ inability to afford bikes, she said.
“They were then sixth-graders, and those students are now seventh-graders,” Nimpson-Boateng said. “It’s cool [Outride] got to see [students’] faces, hear their voices — and those students get to actually see the results of the stories they told.”
Bolstering Carnegie’s case was the school’s proximity to bike paths on the Midway Plaisance and in Jackson Park, which provide “access to a place that is safe to ride,” Nimpson-Boateng said. Side streets may be used during the program, but there will be no riding in major traffic, she said.
The Riding for Focus program requires a two-year commitment, but the bikes are approved for up to 10 years of use. Carnegie intends to run the program for its students as long as possible, Nimpson-Boateng said.
“As long as we have bikes, trained staff and access to the [Blackstone] bike shop that we’ve partnered with for years, we’re hoping this is something that continues for years to come,” Nimpson-Boateng said.
Carnegie was announced as a grant recipient at the January meeting of the Hyde Park-Kenwood community action council. At that meeting, Bret Harte Principal Charles Bright noted his school also received 20 bikes through the program this year, and he praised Blackstone Bicycle Works for its partnership.
“I share it with all the other principals,” Bright said. “We could all get on our bikes, if several schools won it, and we could just meet. We’ve got all these beautiful bike paths for us to ride in our own backyard — that was my hope, and I’m glad Carnegie won.”
Schools may apply for the next round of Riding for Focus grants through April 15. To apply, click here.
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