Your junior high gym class was never like this! Education Instructor Jill Iwanski recounts her adventures in our newest Youth Education pilot: BLAST for Middle Schoolers.
The BikeWalkKC education team sent a crew of instructors to Northeast Middle School (NEMS) in the Kansas City Public School District for a trial of our premier youth education program, Bicycle Lesson And Safety Training (BLAST) in middle school, and I got to be one of them! Here are some of my personal observations, insights, and hopes for the program and these students going forward.
On a chilly Monday morning in January, fellow instructors, Quincy, Andy, and I walked up to NEMS amped up for a new year and the chance to pilot our BLAST program to an slightly older group of kids. From entering through metal detectors to not being certain if the people in the halls were students or teachers, it immediately felt very different than a typical day at an elementary school. We kept our chins up and headed for the girls’ gym.
Gender hasn’t typically played a huge role when we are teaching elementary school students, but since middle school students have gym class separated by gender, we taught only girls the first week, and only boys the last two weeks. It was interesting yet unsurprising that the girls tended to be more nervous and tentative around the bikes. They also didn’t ride at home as much as the boys, and more girls had never ridden a bike before than in the boys’ classes. Discipline was also handled very differently by the school between the two groups. The teacher maintained order in the girls’ gym with words like “respect” and “kindness” while the boys were told which privileges would be given and taken away based on their behavior. Regardless, it was encouraging to hear the adults at the school re-enforce the value of our program, our equipment, and biking as a life skill.
Students are trusted with far more autonomy in middle school than in grade school, so we did have a fair number of students opt to not participate, but there were also kids that begged us to let them ride. It was great to be able to lean into this autonomy and encourage students to consider why they were learning this material, and how their behavior choices would affect their “ride time” for the day.
It would be perhaps more palatable to write up a social-media-type post that only highlights the best 5% of our experience at NEMS, but it wouldn’t depict the ways that our program can truly impact the lives of these students who arguably could use this education and empowerment the most. The joy of becoming a skilled bicyclist doesn’t fade with age and it was refreshing to work with a new set of students and teachers to mold our program to most benefit these kids. In the end, we worked with 315 7th and 8th grade students (163 girls, 152 boys) in 12 different classes. With the number of students who were sad to see the bikes leaving on the last day, I’m hoping we can continue our mission at NEMS and see more and more students biking around the area in the future.