Some local middle school students may soon get a dose of driver’s ed on two wheels.
A new program, backed by an $850,000 transportation stimulus grant, will bring bicycles, helmets and education programs to middle schools across the region.
Donna Lewandowski, the Pima County Safe Routes to School coordinator and project manager, said the main parts of the program are a four-part education curriculum and the creation of on-site bike clubs using bikes the program will provide.
Matt Zoll, the Pima County bicycle and pedestrian program manager, said giving away the bikes to the schools should be a big draw.
“It is going to be a really big deal we think, because we can provide free bikes to the schools to keep and use as training bikes,” Zoll said.
According to Lewandowski, the county will provide the schools with 15-20 bikes, helmets and locks as well as a trained League of American Bicyclists instructor to meet with the clubs.
Barb Koehn, a PE teacher at Academy of Tucson Middle School, said she is trying to bring the program to her school. She said she was shocked at how many kids can’t ride a bike and hoped offering the club would give the students who want to learn the chance to do so.
“I think it is a great opportunity for these kids to be able to participate in this club and it will be completely free of cost to them,” Koehn said.
The other main component is the in-school education program.
Lewandowski said it would consist of a four-part lesson plan that would go into more depth than the county’s elementary school program.
“The education is going to be at a higher level,” Lewandowski said. “In middle school we start to talk about real transportation bicycling with these kids. The hope is that we will have a curriculum where the last class will be out on the roads. Obviously quiet residential streets, but at least to get that start on how does the bicycle fit into the transportation issues.”
“They are pretty capable,” he said. “It won’t just be bike rodeos and parking lots. It is to get them rolling around on the streets they ride especially around the schools.”
Lewandowski said she knows taking the students out on the street might be a challenge.
“We are going to encourage the schools to take a deep breath and let us take these kids out on the road,” she said.
Zoll said one of the challenges with the grant is that the money has to be spent quickly.
“We pretty much have to spend the money in three years as of two weeks ago,” Zoll said. “The clock has started counting.”
According to Zoll, they hope to identify funds to keep the program rolling after the three years is up, but at that point the money will be used more as maintenance for the program.
Lewandowski said they are working with schools to create a program that will allow as many schools to participate as possible.
“What we want to do is make sure we are setting it up so that middle schools can actually take part in it,” she said. “I don’t know what the barriers are. I am trying to work with a few schools so we can get around those barriers or address them early on in the process so we don’t set up something, spend some money and then find out we’ve done something middle schools can’t use.”
Zoll said the program would start slowly this year as they work out the details, but would ramp up at the beginning of the spring semester. He said he is excited to get it going.
“I think it will be a pretty exciting program,” Zoll said. “It is the largest that we know anywhere in the United States. It will be a great challenge for us.”
The program is open to any public or charter middle school in Pima County.