Minneapolis schools biking for better learning outcomes

Breakfast is important, but it may not be as effective at improving concentration as biking and walking to school, according to research published in the Journal of School Health. And that’s not all — researchers are finding memory, attendance and creativity all get a boost from active transportation

One way Minneapolis Public Schools is working to get more physical activity into the school day is through the upcoming MPS Wellness Week May 8–12. During Wellness Week, students are encouraged to walk, bike or take transit to school.

Last year, 9,000 students from 36 schools participated. One of the highlights was the first ever district-wide group bike ride, Let’s Roll, which included 150 students, staff and community members.

This year, Let’s Roll will be held 3 p.m.–4:30 p.m. May 10 on National Bike to School Day. Students will lead the 5-mile ride along the river through downtown and Northeast and members of the public are welcome to join. To find out if your local school is participating, check out the list of contacts: http://bit.ly/2qp1whK.

“Teachers are starting bike clubs not because they love biking, but because they love their students and want them to get physical activity,” said Jenny Borden, Safe Routes to School specialist at MPS. Let’s Roll gives these teachers a chance to learn from each other and feel supported as they work to integrate more biking into the school day.

“Last year, a teacher who had started a bike club but hadn’t yet taken the students off campus said to me after the ride, ‘OK, now I know this is possible,” Borden said.

It’s not only kids who participate in bike clubs or live close enough to bike or walk to school who are getting on opportunities to be more active this spring. Bus Stop & Walk is aimed at kids who take the bus. During these events, buses stop one half-mile from school, where staff, teachers and parents meet students and walk them the rest of the way.

Bus Stop & Walk events are being held every Friday at Lyndale Community School this spring and include approximately 300 children, including those who don’t take the bus but simply want to come to school early and join the fun.

“The benefits are twofold. It works well for children to get some exercise and fresh air in the morning and see the neighborhood where their school is located. It also showcases the wonderful things happening at Lyndale to the greater community,” assistant principal Mark Stauduhar said.

Last year, 3,000 students from 11 different schools in the district participated in Bus Stop & Walk. Ninety-seven percent of MPS teachers surveyed observed students were more alert and ready to learn on the days that started with Bus Stop & Walk.

The benefits of physical activity, and especially biking and walking, are arguably even more important for students who participate in MPS’s Special Education program. This year, 300 of those students from schools across the district will gather at Washburn High School on May 10 and 11 for the Sue Lundgren Adapted Bike Day. There, they’ll spend the day riding specially adapted bikes on the track.

“We’re building bike skills in the hopes that everyone can bike individually,” said Angie Powell, who leads this program as the district program facilitator for special education.

Powell said the kids enjoy being with their peers and the feeling of success they experience as they learn to ride independently. In the future, not all of these children will be able to obtain a driver’s license, so learning to transport themselves on foot or by bike can be key to a more independent adult life.

Through a grant, the district recently received 50 strider bikes, which are pedal-less bicycles that help riders learn to balance. These bikes and other adapted bikes, such as hand-pedal bikes, trikes and more borrowed from the Courage Center, will be used on Sue Lundgren Adapted Bike Day.

MPS also has a standard bike fleet that travels from school to school. Last year, 1,000 students got to use these bikes for field trips, activities and physical education class. A special curriculum, Walk! Bike! Fun! has been developed to teach skills and traffic rules through physical education classes while also meeting Minnesota education standards.

Since the district realized students are more likely to show up for summer school when they know they’ll have access to the bikes, the fleet is also used throughout the summer. This summer, 600 students participating in the STEM Academy program will learn how to take the bikes apart and rebuild them before going on biking field trips.

While bike-to-school events and activities are most robust in the spring, summer and fall, MPS is also encouraging year-round activity. For the past two years, the district has promoted Winter Walk to School Day in February.

“The evidence that physical activity is good for the brain is so overwhelming. We don’t need more research about the benefits of physical activity on cognition. We need research on how to get schools it buy into it,” said Borden.

Get in on the action by participating in the Let’s Roll ride on May 10.


Get rolling — it’s Minneapolis Bike Month

Adults can get in on the action too. Events and activities will be taking place all through May, including on the days below. Get all the details here: mplsbikemonth.org

May 6: Women & Gender Non-Conforming Day

May 10: Bike to School Day –Let’s Roll Minneapolis, 3 p.m.–4:30 p.m. More info: bit.ly/2oVYdQe.

May 11: Nice Ride Minnesota Day

May 19: Twin Cities Bike to Work Day

May 27: Family Bike to the Parks Day