Originally published Jan. 18, 2020 at CantonRep.com.

By Kelli Weir

Holding the book steady with both hands, third-grader Alyssa Altieri sat back in the chair and settled in for some quiet reading.

Only this was no ordinary classroom.

Photo by Julie Vennitti/CantonRep.com

Altieri was in Middlebranch Elementary’s Read and Ride room and the 9-year-old was seated at a stationary recumbent bike pedaling as she read a book from the “Dear Dumb Diary” series.

“I really like coming here,” Altieri said as she pedaled. “It makes me want to read a lot more. It makes reading fun.”

Kent Hamilton, a physical education teacher for the Plain Local School District, said the Read and Ride room is designed to supplement – not replace – the reading instruction and physical activity the students already receive. The room is open on days when the gym isn’t being used for a physical education class. Most classes visit at least once a week.

“On average, an elementary student sits at a desk six hours a day,” he said. “We’re looking for ways to increase their physical activity.”

He got the idea after seeing news reports about a school in North Carolina introducing bike to students in 2009. The school, Ward Elementary in Winston-Salem, found that not only did students enjoy visiting the room, but reading test scores improved.

According to a website created by the school’s Read and Ride coordinator, the school analyzed its testing data in 2010 and found that the students who had spent the most time in the Read and Ride room – at least 29 visits during the year – scored 83% proficiency in reading, while those who spent the least time in the program scores only 41% proficiency in reading. Overall, the school’s reading proficiency for third, fourth and fifth-grade students was 61%, the website said.

Hamilton also has found multiple other studies showing the benefits of combining exercise and learning, such as helping students retain more information and helping to expand their attention spans.

“It was one of those things that I kept in the back of my mind for a while,” said Hamilton, adding that he wasn’t sure whether school administrators would fund such a project.

It was the Plain Local Schools Foundation, a separate entity from the school district that uses donations to fund improvements for students, that gave Hamilton a grant to pursue the project.

Hamilton converted Middlebranch’s unused stage – a holdover from when the building served as a high school – into the Read and Ride room during the 2015-2016 school year and has been growing the program since.

Now, 12 recumbent bikes line the stage with standalone exercise pedals positioned behind them. A rack of donated books sits at the front. At Avondale Elementary, where Hamilton also teaches physical education, teachers have the standalone exercise pedals that can be used in their classrooms. Hamilton said Avondale does not have space to create a dedicated Read and Ride room.

At their own pace

Hamilton said a benefit of having the stationary bikes is that students can pedal at their own pace.

“All of our students, regardless of ability level, can succeed in this room,” he said.

He said kindergarten teachers will bring students to the room and the teacher will read a story aloud while the students pedal. Teachers of older students use it to give students time for quiet reading. Some teachers also will use it solely for an exercise break when they detect their students need to burn some energy.

This week, 20 third-graders were riding the bikes during a visit by The Canton Repository. Each of them had their own style of riding: Some sat their book on the bicycle’s console, others held their books in front of them. Some pedaled quickly, others increased the resistance and pedaled slowly. A few pedaled backward.

Anthony Corbin, 8, said he preferred it over reading in a classroom.

“I like that you can exercise and read at the same time,” he said.

Since first starting the program, Hamilton said teachers have reported that student reading enjoyment has increased. He would like to begin analyzing whether the room has helped to improve student reading scores.

“The big thing is that student reading enjoyment does go up, they want to come to the Read and Ride room,” Hamilton said.

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