Cascade Expands Let’s Go Bicycling and Walking Curriculum into Seattle Middle Schools
The delivery of 30 bikes to Broadview-Thomson K-8 School on February 10 was a major milestone for Cascade, marking the start of a new middle school bicycling curriculum in Seattle--and further expanding one of the nation’s largest school-based bike programs.
Schoolchildren laugh and jostle for position as they line up outside Seattle’s Broadview-Thomson K-8 School on Monday, where Stephen Rowley, Fleet Manager for Cascade Bicycle Club, has arrived with a trailer filled with bicycles.
The kids excitedly cue up to help Rowley unload the 30 bikes, which are wheeled into the gymnasium in preparation for their use as part of the school's Let’s Go bicycle and pedestrian safety and skills curriculum.
The arrival of the new bikes is a special occasion that fills the schoolchildren with joy. But this delivery to Broadview-Thomson also marks a major milestone for Cascade and for Let’s Go.
Broadview-Thomson is the first Seattle school to get bikes for middle-school students as part of the 2020 expansion of the Let’s Go curriculum.
“This expansion of Let’s Go gives even more kids the chance to learn how fun and empowering bikes can be,” Rowley says after he and the children have finished unloading the bicycles. “They not only learn how to safely navigate their neighborhoods and get to and from school by bike, they also gain the confidence to hopefully become lifelong bike riders.”
Broadview-Thomson is one of four middle schools getting bicycles this winter and spring as part of a pilot rollout of the Let’s Go middle school curriculum. The first four schools were chosen because they are locations where the Seattle Department of Transportation has built infrastructure as part of the federal Safe Routes to School movement.
"With the implementation and expansion of Let’s Go, Seattle Public Schools is the first district in the nation to sustain a bicycle and pedestrian safety program,” says Lori S. Dunn, manager of physical education and health literacy for the school system. “It’s a program that provides equity in bicycle training and provides safety resources to our students, especially those furthest from educational justice.”
Dunn was a National Physical Education Teacher of the Year before becoming an administrator with Seattle Public Schools. “The education we are offering is truly saving lives,” she says.
In 2021 and 2022, Cascade and the city will expand Let’s Go to all middle schools throughout the Seattle public school system.
“I’m so excited,” says Brad Thornock, the middle school physical education teacher at Broadview-Thomson. He smiles while surveying the fleet of shiny and clean new bicycles lined up on the gym floor. “And the kids are even more excited than I am.”
Thornock is clearly jazzed by the opportunity to introduce the joys of bicycling to his students. He says about 110 pupils, or about 80 percent of the school’s middle schoolers, have signed up for Let’s Go.
“I love bikes,” says Thornock, who grew up riding bikes around Green Lake. He still races BMX bikes as an adult, and he says it is unfortunate that fewer kids seem to have the opportunity to bike today than when he was a child. “The nature of video games in kids’ culture these days is so intense,” he says.
Thornock, who received training from Cascade’s education specialists, will instruct his students in the basics of bicycle handling and balance, how to safely navigate public streets, helmet usage, and more. Cascade lends schools helmets and other instructional aids along with the bikes.
The goal of Let’s Go is to give all children--regardless of their socioeconomic status or physical abilities—the opportunity to experience the joy, freedom, and health benefits of bicycling, while also providing them with the knowledge and skills to safely pedal and walk their neighborhoods.
Cascade provides the Let’s Go program under a contract with Seattle Public Schools. The Seattle Department of Transportation provides major funding. Physical education teachers sign up to borrow a fleet of 30 bikes, helmets, a bike storage trailer and other equipment. Cascade trains the teachers to provide the curriculum, which was designed with input from educators, transportation professionals, and a range of experts.
In January, the Seattle School Board voted to expand Let’s Go to Seattle middle schools across the district. The vote to include pupils in grades six through eight follows many years of successful collaboration between Cascade and Seattle Public Schools to provide Let’s Go to elementary students in grades three through five.
The elementary school program lasts three weeks; the middle school program two.
In addition to the physical fundamentals of balancing, steering, pedaling, and stopping, Let’s Go also teaches kids the rules of safe and courteous riding. Let’s Go also provides special training for children with disabilities by partnering with the Outdoors for All Foundation, a nonprofit that offers adaptive cycles with three or four wheels for children who need more stability, and hand-pedaled cycles for those with limited or no leg movement.
Research shows that healthy habits begin in childhood, and that adults who are introduced to outdoor activities including bicycling as youths are far more likely to be lifelong outdoor enthusiasts. Cascade hopes that Let’s Go, which also includes walking lessons that instructs schoolchildren about how to safely travel their communities on foot, will provide the impetus for youngsters to make bicycling a lifelong passion.
Let’s Go is also a sustainability initiative. In the era of increased impacts from climate change, automobiles and transportation represent the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington and the United States. Teaching children how to get around by bike rather than relying on cars is a step toward reducing their lifetime carbon footprints and creating a more sustainable, equitable, and healthy society. Let’s Go is among the multiple-school-based programs that Cascade offers to make bicycling a safe, fun, and everyday activity for the next generation.
Back at Broadview-Thomson, Thornock unrolls a mat marked to resemble a crosswalk. His first class is about to begin, and he is eager to get started.
“See you in a few weeks!” Thornock says to Rowley, who closes up the empty trailer and drives back to Cascade Bicycle Club headquarters. Rowley has no time to rest and gets right back to work packing several more trailers, which he will deliver to other schools throughout the week. “It’s an exciting, and busy, time for us as we grow and expand,” Rowley says.
Let’s Go, which is offered in approximately 100 schools to about 20,000 elementary school students in the region annually, is one of the nation’s largest school-based bicycle curriculums. Once Let’s Go is fully rolled out in all Seattle middle schools, the program will double in size to approximately 40,000 students.
For Rowley, overseeing the maintenance and delivery of all of these bicycles is a gargantuan undertaking. “Our bike fleet is massive,” says Rowley, who estimates Cascade owns more than 800 bicycles--with more added all the time--that are used in its many learning programs.
In addition to Seattle, Let’s Go is offered in the Highline, Lake Washington, and Edmonds school districts. Edmonds also mandates Let's Go in all of its elementary schools.
Learn more about Let’s Go: https://cascadebicycleclub.org/learn-school-based-programs/lets-go
Watch a video of SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau talking about the Let’s Go program: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GYa0O-6BpQ