Some Northwest Arkansas schools have joined others across the state and nation in a program teaching young children how to ride a bike.
Seventy-nine schools in Arkansas -- including 38 in Benton and Washington counties -- run the All Kids Bike Kindergarten P.E. program, according to AllKidsBike.org.
The program, for a one-time cost of $6,000, provides a school with 24 balance-to-pedal conversion bikes, 24 helmets, a teacher instruction bike and an online eight-lesson curriculum.
All Kids Bike is a national movement led by the Strider Education Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization formed in 2017. Its mission is to teach every child how to ride a bike in kindergarten physical education class, according to a recent news release from All Kids Bike.
Trailblazers -- a Northwest Arkansas nonprofit group -- was awarded $140,000 from the Walton Family Foundation to match community, corporate and school funding to help pay for the All Kids Bike Kindergarten P.E. program in Arkansas elementary schools, said Anya Bruhin, bike education program manager for Trailblazers.
Trailblazers formed in 2021 through the merger of NWA Trailblazers, an organization that helped develop more than 300 miles of multi-use trails, and BikeNWA, a bicycle advocacy and education-focused organization.
The All Kids Bike program costs $6,000, but with the grant, a school has to pay only $3,000.
Among the grant recipients was Fayetteville's Leverett Elementary School, which has had the program for a year, said Shae Newman, a physical education teacher at the school. Sixty-five kindergarten students participated, 15 of whom didn't know how to ride when the program started, she said.
"Our parents, staff and students loved the program," Newman said. "I got so many praises and thank-yous from everyone. Students are still asking to ride bikes."
The school had a crowdfunding page to come up with the needed $3,000, Newman said.
The bikes and equipment can be used year after year and Leverett will be using the program for years to come, Newman said.
"The bikes are easy to put together and it takes no time to add pedals when it's time," Newman said. "Each lesson is very specific and gives a variety of activities. I encourage all elementary schools to apply for the program."
This school year, Trailblazers has helped pay for the All Kids Bike program at 18 of the 79 Arkansas schools, Bruhin said. With an equipment lifespan of seven to 10 years and funds to match 23 schools, the 2022-23 grant opportunity will impact around 1,700 kids over the next decade, according to the release.
Lisa Weyer, executive director of the Strider Education Foundation, said being able to ride a bike develops physical and mental well-being and instills confidence, which can lead to better focus in the classroom.
"By teaching bike riding at the entry level in a public school system, we are providing the knowledge and a positive foundation of a lifelong skill," Weyer said.
The All Kids Bike Kindergarten P.E. program started with 37 schools in 2018. It's since grown to include more than 900 schools in all 50 states, according to the release.
Bike riding gets kids off screens and engaged with other kids, according to AllKidsBike.org.
The program sees many kindergartners who cannot ride a bike, Bruhin said, though the rate varies across Arkansas.
"For example, there are a higher number of students who can pedal a bike in Northwest Arkansas than in Central," Bruhin said. This has to do with access to places to ride, biking culture as a whole and socio-economic demographics, she said.
"That is why we felt it was so important to expand the program throughout the entire state of Arkansas. We want all children to have access to biking and, thanks to the Walton Family Foundation's vision and this amazing program from All Kids Bike, we are starting to see that access open up," Bruhin said.
Parson Hills Elementary School in Springdale adopted the All Kids Bike program last year, according to a March 2022 news release from All Kids Bike.
Tanae Berry, a physical education teacher at the school, in applying for the program wrote it would help teach students a skill that would last their whole lives.
"Each year, I have more and more older students who do not know how to ride a bike," Berry wrote. "This would allow us to start at a much younger age and be more effective."
For more information
Schools or organizations interested in taking advantage of the matching grant are encouraged to reach out to All Kids Bike at firstname.lastname@example.org.