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Douglass High School students learn safety, confidence on bikes

Saturday, April 21, 2012 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 2:40 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 23, 2012
Gina Overshiner instructs Dillion Kalbfleisch, 17, and Tim Marler, 15, before practicing bicycle drills at Douglass High School. Overshiner is a member of PedNet, and is working to teach Columbia students how to bike safely.

Editor's note: This is part of a special section on Columbia's kids. Read more here.

COLUMBIA — John Reid, an environmental science teacher at Douglass High School, wanted his students to get out and experience nature and have access to service-learning sites but was tired of waiting for the school's bus to become available.

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In partnership with the PedNet Coalition and with support from Columbia's Metro Rotary Club, Reid incorporated bicycling into his outdoor science class.

Originally a way to provide transportation to field trips and service projects, the class has since evolved into a way to teach bike safety and mechanics, as well as responsibility, with donated bikes the students can keep at the end of the semester.

For Gina Overshiner, PedNet's bicycle program manager for, the class she helps teach grew out of other cycling projects, including a bike class she teaches to refugees living in Columbia.

Most of the students have ridden before, but just because they know the basics of riding doesn't mean they're skilled cyclists, Overshiner said.

"If I know how to play 'Chopsticks,' that doesn't mean I know how to play the piano," she said. "It's the same idea with a bike."

The class also aims to teach students how to be "safe, legal and predictable cyclists," said Melissa Speiker, a PedNet bike instructor who helps with the class.

Good cyclists make for good drivers, she said.

The class is also a way to give students transportation to their jobs and other destinations.

To Reid, the class represents something more than learning about bicycles. He wants his students to experience hands-on learning and personal growth.

"This class gives the students a chance to reflect on what they do and how that impacts the community," he said. "It helps kids build a sense of self-worth."

Reid allows students to make their own success in the class by attending and participating, and gives them honest feedback about their progress.

"They're measured against their behavior and not only on their grades," he said.

To him, the most rewarding part of the class is the feeling that he's helping the students.

"The feeling that I'm really giving kids what they need and knowing I have the support of the administration and the community, that makes it really easy to enjoy my job," he said.

The bike class, which takes the place of outdoor science once a week, involves bike skill building exercises such as learning how to signal and scan — observing their surroundings to check for approaching cars or obstacles. The students practice on the two outdoor basketball courts at the school.

The students took some time to figure out the oval course. At first, they preferred to make skid marks with their tires, and one complained of having trouble riding through the tennis balls.

"The turns are too sharp," Brandon Bias said.

"Come on," Overshiner replied. "I can do it, and I'm an old lady.

The students were soon navigating the oval, signalling and scanning.

Other days are devoted to bicycle maintenance — oiling chains, tightening brakes, and attaching lights and reflectors. The students also decorated the bikes in red and black to ride in the True/False Film Fest March March parade.

Earning a bike at the end of the semester depends on attendance and participation.

Overshiner also has plans to give out 'bike bucks,' which can be used to buy bike parts, to award students for attending class and writing reports.

"We're trying to make it fun and applicable," she said.

Both she and Reid have plans for the class in coming semesters. Reid said he hopes that next year he can give his students mentors to track their growth.

He said that when he was in high school he was a nontraditional learner, too, and empathizes with his students.

"Growing up is messy business," he said. "You just have to be patient with yourself and those that are trying to help you."


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