Empowering Kids to Be Active for a Lifetime


SHAPE America member Miriam Kenyon, Director, Health and Physical Education, Office of Teaching and Learning, District of Columbia Public Schools

I grew up in Washington, DC, near Rock Creek Park.  When I wasn’t in school, my sisters and I were outside playing sports and riding our bikes.  A bike provided us with a sense of independence and freedom and a fun way to exercise. So imagine how troubling it was to receive an email from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) program coordinator saying that many kids in DC don’t know how to ride a bike! I was floored. The program coordinator was teaching bike safety in our schools and explained that he spends most of his time teaching kids how to ride. I wondered: why does DC have so many kids who don’t know how to ride a bike? Is it because they don’t have access to a safe place to ride? Are parents too busy to teach them? Biking was such a huge part of growing up in DC for me – how great would it be if all DC children could share that joy?

In DC Public Schools, we have an initiative called Cornerstones, which are shared learning experiences for all students in the same grade level. Our office decided to use the Cornerstones initiative to teach children how to ride a bike and learn bike safety We developed a program where children learned these skills and had the opportunity to practice what they learned at the end of their semester  on a five- to seven-mile ride to a park near their school. Learning how to ride a bike and bike safety are important lifelong skills. Riding to a park with classmates would be an unforgettable experience!


Second graders learn to ride bicycles in DC Public Schools.

We decided to introduce the program to second graders. While many had already learned to ride, many had not; and those who did not yet know how to ride would not be embarrassed because they weren’t alone. We wanted to make sure students were taught bike safety before they developed unsafe bicycling habits. We also wanted to make sure that each school had a safe culminating ride from their school to a park. Physical education teachers went out on the routes to map them, making sure they were safe and that students would get an enjoyable, memorable experience.

As the end of the semester approaches, the kids have been super excited about the opportunity to ride their bikes to a park! Seeing their confidence grow is so heart-warming! Many have been practicing before or after school and have even persuaded their parents to take them to the park to practice. Our goal is that in 10 years, all DC students will know how to ride a bike safely.

Physical educators and principals have embraced the program:

  • “Most students are already excited to have PE, but to know that the day would be spent riding bikes was an extra bonus. On the day of the class, several students would ask ‘Are we riding the bikes today? Just saying yes, would make their day.’” –Glenn Sitney, PE Teacher, Wheatley EC
  • “Teaching bike safety and the skills of riding (balance, planning, reacting) are  incredibly important and too often go untaught.” –Principal Elizabeth Whisnant, Mann ES
  • “This was greater than simply learning how to ride. Students learned skills they can utilize throughout a lifetime, around safety, team building, peer interactions, exploration and the community.” –Principal Heather Hairston, C.W. Harris ES

To learn more, go to the SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators website where the program is featured as a case study for achieving the goal of 50 Million Strong by 2029.

That’s SHAPE America’s national commitment to empower all children to lead healthy and physically active lives through effective health and PE programs.  I invite you to join the commitment by showing support for these programs. Encourage local schools to create active learning environments and provide opportunities for students to practice healthy behaviors. Share SHAPE America’s resources with health and PE teachers, school administrators and parents. What do you say, can we count you in?

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