WASHINGTON COUNTY — The back playground of Coral Canyon Elementary was lined with bikes Thursday afternoon and a group of excited fifth-graders, clad in bicycle helmets, had gathered around them. From a distance, the children could be seen practicing road-riding hand signals – right turn, left turn and stop – as they prepared to take a group ride through the neighborhood surrounding the school.
The children were participating in a bicycle safety program that has reached more than 4,200 students across the state and Thursday’s neighborhood ride was the culmination of four days of training and practice.
The Bicycle Education and Safety Training, or BEST, is a youth program provided by Bike Utah – an organization whose mission is to integrate bicycling into the everyday culture of the state.
The program has been in existence for a little over a year, said John Reed, a board member for Bike Utah and a Southern Utah cycling advocate. It has been implemented by multiple Washington County schools to teach youth how to safely and confidently navigate by bicycle. The benefits for students are two-fold: enhanced safety and increased exercise.
“We really love educating kids and getting them out there and riding,” Reed said. “A lot of kids have learned to ride that haven’t ridden before.”
The five-hour program is administered at the schools at no cost. This year’s trainings have been aimed at students in the fifth grade, Reed said.
The program uses trained instructors and Bike Utah provides bicycles, helmets and all other equipment to participating students for the duration of the program.
To date, the program has reached thousands of students in Utah, including 10 percent of all 10-year-olds throughout the state.
Participating students learn:
- The benefits of riding a bicycle.
- Rules of the road.
- Helmet fitting.
- Bicycle safety checks.
- Navigating intersections.
- Right of way.
- Avoiding hazards.
“I think, more and more, bikes are becoming a viable way to get around, especially in Southern Utah,” said Pete McKelvey one of the youth education coordinators for Bike Utah.
In recent years, Washington County has seen a huge push to encourage bikes as a means of transportation with the formation of the Active Transportation Committee, the opening of the St. George Bicycle Collective and the newly established LiVe Well St. George Bike Share Program.
For young students without driver’s licenses, having a bike for transportation can be empowering, McKelvey said.
Beyond their use as a means of transportation, bikes are also valuable tools in combating obesity and elevating moods.
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department has partnered with the program because of their interest in combating obesity, Reed said. Educating children at a young age and helping them get interested in an active lifestlye, like riding bikes, is the best way to fight obesity, he said.
The students participating in the program Thursday rode to a nearby park where they stopped to have a discussion about the benefits of bikes.
“We had a kid bring up today that their mood was improved when they rode bikes,” McKelvey said. “I think that has always been true for me and a lot of people who ride bikes … it gives you energy more so than it takes it away.”
Teachers whose students have been participating in the program have noticed many positive benefits.
“Their desire to follow the rules and to be explicit in their instructions and following the examples of others is something I’ve really noticed a lot this week,” said Taysha Bundy, a fifth-grade teacher at Coral Canyon Elementary.
Bundy added that she feels like her students have really noticed how fun it is to exercise and be outdoors.
“They want more,” Bundy said.
Reed hopes that other schools will have a desire to have their students experience the program in the next school year.
The program has the capacity to move around the state so it can be administered at schools in all corners of Utah, depending on the season, information from Bike Utah’s webpage about the program said.
Schools that have not yet signed up for the program or parents who would like more information can contact Bike Utah’s youth education coordinators at youth@BikeUtah.org.
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