By Maggie Priesmeyer, Education Programs Manager
The idea of a bike program at East High School in the Kansas City Public School District started small– with an email several months ago from a math teacher interested in bringing bicycle education to a few of his students. After an initial planning meeting and settling on a curriculum flow and start date of March 24th, BikeWalkKC expected six or seven student applications to roll in. This year, 2016, would be considered the pilot year, and evaluation of the pilot would help inform future programs at East.
Little did BikeWalkKC know the overwhelming response the program would receive, the incredible support from teachers, staff and parents it would gather, and the tremendous success the inaugural cohort would be. In only four days, Sixty students applied to be in the Youth Ambassadors program. After narrowing the list down, twenty-six East High School students participated, BikeWalkKC’s biggest after school program yet.Someone made a joke about hand signals during the first class of East High School’s bicycle program (March 24th).
East High School is located at 20th and Van Brunt, in the heart of Kansas City’s east side. Over 95% of the students and their families live below the poverty line. Additionally, East teaches the majority of New American students entering the KCPS school district.
The East High School Youth Ambassadors cohort presented BikeWalkKC with an extremely rewarding and unique experience. To start, eighty percent of the cohort were New Americans, and most of the group had little to no experience with bicycling. During introductions on the first day, BikeWalkKC instructors learned that there were over 10 languages represented in one room and students were from twelve regions around the world, including: Myanmar, Malaysia, Iraq, Thailand, Mexico, Central African Republic, Congo, Nepal, Rwanda, Sudan, Cambodia, and the United States.
Additionally, the growth in skill and confidence was staggering. Tremendous progress was made from the first week of learning how to ride in a straight line on the school parking lot, to the longest bike ride adventure: 9 miles to the River Market and back.
BikeWalkKC and the four teacher champions at East are proud to share success stories from the 2016 East High School Youth Ambassadors cohort:
- 26 total students graduated
- Each student received a bike, helmet, bicycle lock and light set
- The group rode a total of 42 miles over the eight week course
- Each student created their own bicycle route map as a school math assignment
- Three students from Iraq, who had only ever ridden tricycles, learned how to ride on two wheels
- Students tackled all challenges with smiling faces; even 8% elevation changes!
- As soon as students received their bicycles on the last day, the school bike rack was full the next day
- The program garnered amazing support from other school staff, the principal, neighbors and friends.
- 15 bicycles were donated by teachers and parents*
- Over $600 was donated for materials and the continuation of the program*
It was evident when bicycling around Kansas City’s east side (with all 26 students and 6 adults), that there is an extreme disparity in the presence of bicycle infrastructure (not to mention HILLS). Several of the students expressed that if there was a dedicated or even protected lane, they would be more likely to ride their bikes to school and other activities. East students hope that through this program, awareness will grow for the importance of protected and connected bicycle facilities for all areas of Kansas City.
This year will mark the first of many Youth Ambassador cohorts at East High School. We hope that the enthusiasm for bicycling and active transportation will not only grow within the school culture, but also set a precedent for other high schools in the district and beyond.
*Thanks to the super champions at East High School: Andrew Killen, Patrick Brier, Nate Zier and Zach McCullough
And to all who donated! The success of the program wouldn’t be possible without your generous support:
Tiffany Siner, Megan Scanlon, Richard Hill, Cynthia Bleck, Rita Killen, Chris & Dan Danford, Sherry Fetzer, Thomas Herrera, Blayne Marshall, Carolyn Hammond, Rhea Muchalla LeGrande, City of Shawnee, Kimberly Jacobs, Linda Brines and Charles White.