DAVIDSON – Veteran educator Stephanie Ford recognized the potential value of an innovative program using bicycle riding to encourage student development.
And representatives of the Spirited Cyclist Bike Shop, with locations in Davidson and Huntersville, were intrigued by the prospect of introducing young people to the world of cycling while also supporting a local school.
As a result, this fall Bailey Middle School in Cornelius will be one of only 130 schools in the country offering Riding for Focus, a multi-dimensional educational and student-enrichment program.
Established by the Specialized Foundation, a nonprofit promoting cycling as a tool to help middle school students achieve academic, health and social success, Riding for Focus blends physical fitness with research exploring cycling’s potential impact on social, emotional and physical development.
With a mapped-out curriculum – including a training program for instructors at the foundation’s California headquarters – and an emphasis on reaching children with attention deficient/hyperactivity disorder, the program is in the evolutionary stage, and Ford is eager to put it into action at Bailey.
“I’ve known about this for several years, and tried before to get a grant, said Ford, a 23-year educator and a physical education instructor at Bailey for seven years. She said after her 2016 grant application was denied, she still “kept up with the program and how it was working in other places. And then Cathy called and asked if we were up for trying again.”
That “Cathy” was Cathy Mathews, an advocate and public liaison for Spirited Cyclist who reached out to Ford after discussing the program with colleagues.
“We heard about the program and it just sounded like a perfect fit,” Mathews said.
James Good, part of the Spirited Cyclist management team, agreed.
“I think Stephanie was working on this for years, and when we found out about it, it just seemed like a really great program,” Good said. “I’m glad we’re part of it.”
Boosted by the company’s support, Ford recommitted to the application process, which included recruiting some students to produce a video to accompany the paperwork.
“Stephanie did all the hard work to pursue this,” Mathews said, “but I think having support, a connection to the community, made the application more powerful.”
The new grant application was approved, adding Bailey to the group of 130 schools – spread across 45 states and Canada – that this fall will reach more than 33,000 students. The grant package included 21 new bicycles and safety equipment along with the comprehensive physical education curriculum.
On July 11, a Spirited Cyclist team spent the day assembling the bicycles at the company’s warehouse/workshop in Davidson. That evening, those involved in the program were invited to a casual gathering to see the school’s new inventory and celebrate the partnership and the program.
“From a school standpoint, we have a lot of options,” Bailey Principal Chad Thomas said at the event. “We have a lot of kids who could benefit from this.”
Ford and Thomas anticipate initiating the program as a type of club, meeting a few days a week. But both expect Riding for Focus will evolve into a regular class.
“This is a starting point, kind of a building block,” said Ford, who along with Cornelius police officer Patrick Maldarelli, Bailey’s school resource officer, left July 15 for week-long training in California. “Part of our responsibility will be to report back to the foundation about how our program is doing, but I think we’ll also have the chance to see how far we can take it.”
Maldarelli, who students often see riding a bicycle around campus, said he is looking forward to being involved in the program.
“It’s a way to encourage them to stay active, provide an activity they can enjoy,” Maldarelli said. “I think when students, especially some who might be struggling in certain areas, have something like this to look forward to, it helps them in school. And from my experience, kids that do better in school have less involvement in other activities – things that may not be positive.”
More details about the Specialized Foundation and its Riding for Focus school program are available at specializedfoundation.org.