Learning to BikeApril 13, 2021
By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
JASPER — Angie Ruxer’s kindergartners hover around her on their Strider bikes — beginner's bikes without pedals — waiting for their next instruction on Friday morning.
They’ve taken laps around the gym floor, learning to use the Strider bikes before the pedals are installed. "Pedal, pedal, pedal, stride," Ruxer tells them. They’ve been verbally quizzed over each bike part and how to safely wear a helmet.
Toward the end of the class, Ruxer asks each student to raise their hands if they feel they’d be comfortable using pedals soon. One girl, who later Ruxer said had been struggling a bit before, volunteered to ride in front of the class to show that she can stride.
“Show them what you can do,” Ruxer said to her. "Pedal, pedal, pedal, stride."
She glides past her classmates over to the other side of the gym without wobbling or fumbling once, something Ruxer said wouldn’t have happened a week ago.
Ruxer, the physical education teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Jasper, is in the early stages of a grant program that will help about 1,000 kindergarten students over the next five years learn to bike. The program, provided by national nonprofit All Kids Bike, includes helmets and Strider bikes that start as balance bikes and convert to pedal bikes, as well as staff training and certification and continued support to each school for the first five years of the program, according to a press release from the organization.
“Our goal is to have every Kindergartner riding a bike before they leave kindergarten,” Ruxer said.
Ruxer applied for the program after realizing there are so many places to bike in Dubois County, such as the Riverwalk and different parks, and that several of her students had already started to learn how to bike but others had not gotten the chance yet. She said she will be using the bikes to teach preschoolers through second-graders, although the program is mainly intended for kindergartners.
At first, she was nervous about starting the program. As a parent, teaching one child to ride a bike can be difficult — would she be able to teach two dozen at a time? Would the kids get injured or fight over the bikes? Could she fit the program into a couple of weeks?
Overall, Ruxer said she’s been very impressed with the students so far. Of course, they’re still kids, so not everything is going to be perfect, but everyone has been riding safely and learning pretty well.
In addition to teaching the students to ride, she also incorporates lessons about the importance of bike safety and how riding a bike can be a good cardio activity, explaining what cardio means to them.
“Can you exercise as a kid on a bike?” she asks her class. They nod.
“What about an adult like me?” They nod again. “Yeah, bike riding is good exercise for everyone. You can do it yourself or you can have a whole team. One thing I want you guys to think about, though, before you ever go out on a bike ride, it’s best to go with a partner.”
In the last few minutes of class, Ruxer tells her students that they’re going to play another game of red light, green light, because it will slow their heart rate back down to normal from the laps they were taking earlier, and it will be another safety lesson.
“And why are we playing this game today?” she asks. “I want you to think about stopping on your bike, and using your cue to stop and stop quickly.”
Holy Trinity is the only school in Dubois County to have this program, Ruxer said.
As the class continues, Ruxer said she’s hopeful that all of the students will be able to ride by the end. But even if they don’t, it’ll still teach them important lessons and be a fun memory for them.
“It doesn't really matter the age you learn to ride, so much it's just about practicing their balance and coordination,” she said.
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