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Simsbury Blazes Trail with Bike Safety Education Training for Connecticut Teachers

Biking “students” head off for the mountain bike trail for specialized training.
Biking “students” head off for the mountain bike trail for specialized training.

Submitted release 

On Wednesday, Oct. 16, at Simsbury’s Central Elementary School, Simsbury's Elementary Physical Education Department hosted a unique bike safety education workshop for other physical education teachers from around Connecticut. About a dozen physical education teachers from around the state attended this interactive workshop to learn how to implement a bike safety unit within their schools, either through an intramural program or physical education curriculum. The all-day workshop was offered through a cooperative effort with the Simsbury Public Schools, Bike Walk Connecticut, and Simsbury Free Bike.

Bike safety education, including etiquette, will be incorporated into the fourth-grade physical education curriculum at all five elementary schools. Two schools, Tootin’ Hills and Latimer Lane, piloted the program last spring. Tariffville will implement the curriculum this month, while Central and Squadron Line will be rounding out the effort this spring. The Bike Walk Connecticut program began with the town of Berlin’s physical education teacher, Jim Arnold, who took his love for biking to the next level by designing and advocating for this “train the trainer” format.

Observing the workshop was Amy Muska, Simsbury’s Department of Health and Physical Education Supervisor. Through strong collaboration with her elementary staff, Muska has helped to bring bicycle safety curriculum in the district; she said she wanted to be there for every bit of the workshop “to hear it, see it, and document it.”

Each participant left the workshop with a two-inch thick binder outlining the curriculum, covering everything from how to properly size a bike helmet, what happens when you use just the front brakes on a bike, when and how to shift gears, proper hand signals, traffic signs, and much more. Pretty much anything you would want to know about riding and the rules of the road were contained in the binders. Participants came from towns as far away as Trumbull, Cheshire, Terryville, Suffield, Glastonbury, Gilbert/Winsted, and Waterbury.

The learning experience didn’t just rely on papers and Powerpoints—the real training took place outside, where the “students” engaged in activities that tested their biking abilities, including mountain biking in the woods and navigating over logs. Not every teacher turned out to be a biking expert, more than one literally getting hung up on a log, perhaps learning all the more about the skills they needed from their sometimes uncomfortable miscalculation. One participant commented that it was much harder than it looked, adding ruefully, “The kids do this all the time!”

Although the effort to implement bike safety into the curriculum has been successful, some of the challenges, said Muska, have included renting or transporting bikes, although the community has stepped up to help, especially Bike Walk CT and Simsbury Free Bike. The department has purchased extra helmets, which will also help ensure that all students can learn to ride safely, from a very young age all the way to adulthood.

Central School physical education teacher Nichole Bailey-Gates, who attended the training, pointed out the benefits for not just the educational community but the Simsbury community as well. “Biking is lifelong. We are a bike-friendly community, so we are hoping to plant the seed abut bike safety with the kids.”

Besides the overarching goal of achieving a healthy lifestyle for children, another of the benefits of cycling, Bailey-Gates added, is “it’s a great way to connect with parents.”

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