The Washington public school system has one goal for their second grade students this year: learn how to ride a bike. Learning how to ride a bicycle is a staple of most people’s childhoods, especially here in the United States. When you’re a kid, learning how to ride a bike is often a pretty big deal. Your parents, siblings or friends celebrate it with such regard because it is, in many ways, a milestone in your young life. You may not delve deep into thought about it when you’re seven or eight years old, but being able to ride a bike is an excellent indicator of growing self-reliance and ability. With the start of the new school year, D.C.’s initiative aims to capitalize on this treasured experience.

Through a new D.C. Public Schools initiative called Cornerstones, a kind of “core curriculum” will be assigned to schools throughout the city. With a series of projects, officials hope that it will not only improve academic rigor, but also help narrow the ever-present achievement gap separating students from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. Bike-riding instruction, then, is one such Cornerstone project categorized specifically in physical education. D.C.’s Department of Transportation agreed to fund the purchase of 475 bikes for its public schools, making the initiative the first of its kind in a United States school district.

D.C. public school students will now learn how to ride bicycles in their physical education classes. PHOTO VIA FLICKR USER BIKE SLO COUNTY

D.C. public school students will now learn how to ride bicycles in their physical education classes. PHOTO VIA FLICKR USER BIKE SLO COUNTY

As Miriam Kenyon, the director of health and physical education at DCPS describes, bike riding is “a great way not only to get to school, but to exercise, and to see your city. It promotes independence.” And it’s hard not to agree. Bicycles are a simple means of transportation, one that gives you substantial access to freedom — even if, as a child, that freedom is still supervised by your parents or guardians. Bikes give you the ability to leisurely explore and enjoy all that your neighborhood or local area has to offer, all while getting a little bit of exercise. Most kids learn about bike safety in school already, through national programs such as Safe Routes to School, so why shouldn’t they learn how to actually ride a bike in gym class while they’re at it?

With D.C. being a major metropolitan city, learning how to ride a bike in school will also have a significant impact on kids from low-income households. As I mentioned before, learning how to ride a bike is part of seemingly every American’s young life. But on second glance we can see that for many children, this unfortunately isn’t the case — especially in urban neighborhoods. Buying a bike is often very expensive for some families. Parents are also concerned about street safety, which is still a very prevalent and dangerous issue. In most cases the best places to bike, which are within protected lanes and on park trails, are likely to be across town and not at all close to home. Universal bike education at school can help children become more independent and active, as well as teach them how to be safe on the roads.

Although it seems that many children these days are becoming more and more preoccupied with smartphones, tablets and other electronics instead of enjoying the great outdoors, it’s great to see that people — especially our public school systems — can still see the benefits of activities that don’t center on a glowing screen. Virtually anyone can learn how to ride a bike, and it’s a skill that you’ll have for life. So ride on, D.C.