It appears that a special bicycle program at The Huntsville Middle School was a success in its first semester at the school.
HMS was the first school in northwest Arkansas to offer the Specialized Riding For Focus program and only the second in the state.
According to outridebike.org, “the program integrates cycling into the physical education curriculum as a means to help students achieve academic, health and social success.”
HMS teacher Staci Williamson was the lead teacher for the new program.
Earlier this week, Williamson said, “We put the program on pause during the winter months and will resume in the spring. We had about 50 kids participate in the fall, some learning to ride bikes for the first time.”
The bicycle program was introduced last August when parents came to school with their students, preparing for the fall semester.
Principal Matt Ferguson this week said, “I definitely think the kids were very excited about it. We got the sessions full every rotation. It’s a six-week rotation.”
The program was delayed a bit at the start of school.
“The start of the year the first six weeks, we weren’t able to get going because we were waiting on the rest of the equipment to come in. We had to wait on the helmets to come in,” he said.
“But once those got here, we got the program going and the kids really enjoyed it. I got to get out there and ride with them a little bit. They seemed to really have a lot of fun with it.”
Kids in grades 6-8 can sign up for a six-week course to learn about bicycles. The students can sign up through an adviser during the SOAR program, which meets between third and fourth periods at the school.
The biking program is conducted Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during the SOAR hour.
The bikes were put together at The Bike Route in Fayetteville.
Local bicycle enthusiast Eric Blocker worked with several partners to get money for the middle-school program.
“From what I have seen, the program is a hit,” Blocker said this week.
“The kids I have talked to have really enjoyed being involved with a scholastic activity/sport where they are literally ‘on their own’ once they mount their bikes.
“Unlike other common sports that rely heavily on the team as a whole, cycling can be done and done well with a little practice and saddle time, this offers them a bit of freedom and includes a workout both physically and mentally.”
Blocker added, “I’m really proud to see the program being received and represented so well,” he said.
Ferguson said students of all skill levels can enjoy the program.
“That’s one thing about the program is that somebody that’s an avid bike rider or somebody that’s completely novice, it’s open to all of them,” he said.
“They still have opportunities, all of them have fun and get to ride.”
Ferguson said he wasn’t sure at first how it would work out.
“I was a little nervous because we do have several kids up here that are avid bike riders,” he said. “I was a little nervous that they might be kind of bored with it, but that wasn’t the case. They still enjoyed the program.”
Last year Blocker tried to get the program into the middle school, but several administrators left for jobs elsewhere in the school district or retired.
Blocker a year ago told Ferguson, the incoming principal, about the program, but the new principal was hesitant to spend money. Blocker told him the school wouldn’t have to spend money for the program.
Blocker worked with Anya Bruhin with Bike Northwest Arkansas, based in Bentonville, who put him in touch “with the right people.”
Private donations were met by The Specialized Foundation and the school had its biking program.
Last August, Bruhin showed a video to explain the program and its benefits. She said the program stresses about 20 minutes of “elevated heart rate” time for the students.
Using bicycles in class was not new for Williamson. P.E. teacher and coach Kaleb Houston eventually will incorporate bike riding into his physical education classes, as well.
“I actually taught it when I was at Springdale,” Williamson said last August. The district’s head volleyball coach teaches eighth-grade history at HMS, but will add a section of physical education this year. She also will teach other P.E. teachers about the biking program.
Williamson said the exercise will benefit the students in various ways.
“Exercise in general helps kids focus in learning,” she said. “They’re sitting in a desk all day, so any chance for them to move is going to help them get their energy out. It helps with students who have ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) or obesity or just aren’t getting that social connection that they need, so biking is going to help solve all three of those problems right there,” she said.
The Specialized Foundation provided around $30,000 toward the project, at no cost to the school district.
Ferguson said colder weather recently put the program on hold, though the next six-week rotation should start Jan. 27. The bikes will be used in a P.E. class immediately this semester until the end of the school year.
“Once it got cold we had to kind of pull back on it a little bit because we don’t really have anywhere indoors that we can ride, so those really cold days we had to just not take them out and let them ride,” he said.
And, when will the program get back outside?
“Pretty soon, as warm as it’s been this winter,” he said. “Christmas break seemed like springtime almost,” he said.
The project’s website says, “Riding for Focus provides a combination of cycling, fitness, and academic performance, all while instilling a lifelong passion for cycling for students who participate in the program.”
The Riding for Focus grant supplied bikes, helmets and equipment required to run the cycling program.