Laramie Middle School is bringing the P.E. classroom outdoors after winning a grant that provided 26 mountain bikes to the school.
“I’ve never been to a school or even heard of a school that has had the resources to have bikes,” LMS P.E. teacher Jamie Simmons told the Boomerang. “I just think it’s really awesome that we get this opportunity.”
The bikes are part of a grant program started by Outride, a nonprofit started by national mountain bike manufacturer Specialized Bicycles, in Fall 2016.
Outride has been partnering with schools to donate bikes as part of its Riding for Focus program, which encourages using cycling to help students focus better in school. The program is especially geared toward students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which can make it hard for people to focus on activities like schoolwork.
Cynthia Hartung, a clinical psychology professor at the University of Wyoming who specializes in the assessment and treatment of ADHD, helped Simmons apply for the grant along with a graduate student, Anne Stevens.
Hartung is also studying the effects of exercise and other activities on people with ADHD. A lot of people are turning to prescriptions first, she said, when “there’s evidence to suggest that maybe we should look at sleep, nutrition and exercise first, and then maybe psychotherapy, and then maybe medication.”
“Medication should be the last thing we try,” she said. “Instead, it’s usually the first thing that we try.”
Once she heard about the grant, Hartung said she was “really excited about getting more kids on bikes.” Research is increasingly showing that biking is good for mental and physical health, she added.
LMS was one of 40 schools nationwide that received the bikes; the only other school in Wyoming to win was Jackson Hole Middle School in Jackson.
Outride not only provided bikes but helmets, “bike pumps, fix-it kits, tire tubes, just the works,” said Simmons.
The company also wrote an entire curriculum for teachers to start with, she added, including “starting and stopping, (gear) shift changing, the cadence — how fast or slow they’re pedaling — the target heart rate zones, weaving, turning” and even road signals.
Simmons said the curriculum is very detailed, and she even went to a special all-expense-paid conference in California so she could train other teachers and coaches in the area on incorporating cycling into their curricula.
The students must learn basic bike maintenance, like checking the breaks and air in the tires, as well as safety checks before they’re able to leave campus riding the bikes. Volunteers from local biking groups will help chaperone the class when it does go off-campus, including the Schoolyard bike trails east of town.
The bikes arrived in Laramie “completely disassembled” and local bike shop and outfitter, All Terrain Sports, put together each of the 26 bikes free of charge.
“They spent who knows how long putting together all those bikes, and they’re amazing,” Simmons said.
Albany County School District No. 1 also deserves praise, Hartung said, due to its willingness to accept a curriculum outside of the status quo.
“Traditionally the focus has been more on team sports like football or soccer or volleyball, and as a clinical child psychologist, the children I work with are not necessarily good at those team sports,” she said. “I’m glad this sport is something that is more nontraditional and more of a lifelong sport.”
Simmons also noted the potential to form a life-long habit as a perk of the program; giving students an opportunity to learn how to exercise outside of school is one of the major goals of a P.E. class, she said.
“I have a couple of students who have already told me that they can’t ride a bike, which his great, I love that; they have room to grow,” Simmons said. “I have students who are already on the mountain bike team. I’m planning to get them to collaborate and get them to help each other.”
Not just beneficial to the students, the grant also provides an opportunity for graduate and doctoral students to study exercise and how it affects student performance, Hartung added.