Easy As Riding a Bike
A Naperville high school is making a childhood pleasure an integral part of it’s PE curriculum
A new Naperville high school program that runs on two wheels might seem like kid stuff to some. But John Fiore has always believed bikes should be part of physical education . . . for life.
“It’s somewhat ironic, we are bringing back something seen as traditional, seen as old school — riding your bike,” says Fiore, the instructional coordinator of the Wellness Department at Naperville North High School and a mountain biker himself. “It was part of being a kid.”
Bikes are still part of childhood, but they seem to be less so, thanks to the appeal of technology, the many dual-working parents, and kids who are not always home after school, among other factors.
“Our bikes were our social media,” Fiore says. “They were our key to independence. I don’t know that bikes are looked at that way anymore — kids can escape and be in an independent world on their devices at home.”
The 18-year teacher had for years wanted his high school PE program to add a cycling unit. Thanks to a convergence of opportunities, including funding from, among others, the Naperville Parks Foundation, the program debuted this past fall with the sophomore class. Additionally, a biking class option for juniors and seniors will be offered through the school’s PE adventure education.
“A retired teacher who subs here asked a student last fall to describe the bike program. ‘It’s my favorite part of the day,’ the student responded,” says Fiore, clearly pleased, though not surprised.
Historically, kids left their bikes in the garage once they began to drive. But Fiore believes the time may be right to encourage a different life cycle.
“Number one, we want kids to have fun, get exercise, be outside and ride for a lifetime,” says Fiore. “But the program also teaches kids about their own personal environmental impact. We expose them to the rest of the world, where people in a lot of countries are still riding bikes as a primary mode of transportation. We aim for a multi-dimensional curriculum.”
Young kids not only seem less attached to their bicycles than in generations past, some never learned to ride at all. Fiore has found that typically a couple of the 36 or so students in each class show up not knowing how to balance on a two-wheeler.
“We were kind of ready for that — but until you see it, a 15-year-old kid who doesn’t know how to ride a bike …” Fiore trails off.
The class emphasizes rules and safety, but there is class time for individual help, thanks to junior and senior PE leaders. “The learning curve is really the same as with younger kids. It all comes down to balance and momentum — some pick it up faster than others.”
Classmates have been supportive in those cases. And the end goal is more than a fun hour at school for a quarter or so — it’s a hope that kids want to keep riding their bikes for life. The aim fits well with the locally famous “Fit for Life” theme of the physical education program at Naperville District 203, pioneered by the late Phil Lawler, who called it “the new PE.”
Fiore compares the bike class to a longtime state requirement for students — swimming. “It’s a nice, lifelong activity, something that’s going to keep you safe. That’s what we always talk about in our swim program. We aren’t going to make you the fastest swimmer, just more efficient.”
The 40 mountain bikes used for the program are ridden by the sophomores on a loop through the school’s campus. The older students head out to bike paths. Though both programs are a novelty now, Fiore is certain that, like bikes themselves, they’ll stand the test of time.
“It’s going to easily turn into something we normally do in PE,” predicts Fiore.
The class has sparked area interest — Neuqua Valley is expected to begin a similar program soon. Naperville North’s is the first high school bike program in the state to work with Specialized, the bike company, though a few others have programs where kids bring their own bikes to school. Specialized’s nonprofit Outride program helps schools across the country fund biking curricula and has studied how biking helps improve kids’ social, emotional and cognitive health.
At Naperville North, the class gets a mention in the school’s healthy habits survey, given three times a year. Eventually, Fiore will have data regarding the bike class’s impact, but until then, “If kids are getting good activity and enjoying themselves on bikes in PE, it’s a success.”Edit Module