Grant to fund bike safety program for fifth-graders

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home School District will begin a sort of driver’s education program for fifth-graders next school year – teaching them to ride bikes safely.

Samaritan Health Services has awarded an $8,000 social accountability grant to the School District to help pay for a bicycle fleet and a trailer to transport them.

The $15,900 program came out of Safe Routes to Schools efforts, said Oak Heights Principal Josh Dargis, who is leading the project for the district. “The consistent thing the last three years is the walking school bus. We’ve been talking about getting bikes involved.”

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership is a national non-profit that advances policy change and catalyzes support for healthy, active communities, starting with walking and bicycling to school.

The district, in partnership with Safe Routes to Schools, Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments and the Oregon Department of Transportation, has been holding walking school bus events in recent years, in which students walk to school together with local officials with an aim to encourage healthy, active transportation options for children.

The new course will teach students how to safely navigate the community on bikes, encourage physical activity and fitness and promote safe behaviors.

Schools will be able to schedule seven to 10 days of hands-on lessons to learn and practice safe biking techniques, the laws of the road, how to complete safe turns, use signals and properly fit a helmet.

It’s about “making them safe to maneuver around the community on their bicycles,” said Donna Short, a member of the Safe Routes to School committee, who represents the Santiam Spokes bicycle club.

Other districts, like Corvallis and Albany, have bike fleets, Dargis said. “They do these lessons with fifth-graders to get them safe on the roads.”

Those districts have been doing it for 15 to 20 years, Short said, and the Street Trust has been doing it in Portland even longer.

Albany is purchasing a new fleet, Dargis said, and the plan is to purchase Albany’s used fleet and cargo trailer and bike rack.

In a couple of weeks, PE teachers will meet with administrators to work out what the program will look like in each of the schools, Dargis said.

The program will culminate in a one to 1½-hour ride around town practicing all of the skills students will learn in the course, like when to be on the sidewalk, when not to be and how to signal, Dargis said.

The district still needs to buy the bikes and develop the program, so it won’t be ready to go until next school year.

“It’s about kids’ safety,” Dargis said. “We have a lot of kids walking the streets or riding bikes. The last thing we want is to get that call that a kid’s been in an accident.”

Accidents involving bicycles aren’t common in Sweet Home.

“The drivers are forgiving in this community,” Short said, but in a lot of cases, it’s the driver watching out for the children on bikes.

It will give children more confidence to ride around in the Sweet Home area, Short said, and it’ll help provide them skills they’ll need if they move to a different area.

They’ll get safety instruction, Dargis said, but it’s also about encouraging children to ride their bikes for the health benefits.

The program targets fifth-graders, Short said. That’s the age experts have determined is best for this type of instruction, a best practice. Programs also exist at the junior high level and in lower grades, but they have a different focus.

Also participating in the program are Linn Shuttle, which will help move trailers between schools. The COG is providing bicycle helmets. Santiam Spokes and Mid-Valley Bike Club will provide bicycle maintenance, volunteer support and continued promotion of bicycle safety education and events.