There’s an intangible thrill that East Middle School teacher Patrick Roenicke feels when he’s riding a bicycle.
It started when he learned to ride at 5 years old and it grew during his childhood in Michigan, riding with friends every day after school.
“I would basically go out and tear the cranks off my bike for a few hours,” Roenicke said. “I noticed kids don’t do that anymore. They play organized sports, but the idea of going out on your bike alone or with some buddies, to explore other parts of town, has gone away.”
Teaching math, science and reading through bicycles was Roenicke’s dream job long before he helped win a grant for 30 mountain bikes, helmets and gear for East Middle School this year.
Seventh-grader Xanthus Mansur couldn’t believe his school was selected for the grant.
Xanthus counts Roenicke as his favorite teacher, but he was downright skeptical when he heard that East Middle School was among hundreds of schools applying for a grant last spring.
“I told him, why would you do that? There’s 500 schools, there’s no chance we’re going to get it,” Xanthus said.
But the Specialized Foundation, a group that promotes helping children with attention disorders through cycling and mountain biking, did select East Middle. Now Xanthus can’t wait to get outside.
“We usually just sit inside all day and we only have 40 minutes for lunch, and I feel like that’s not enough time,” Xanthus said. “To have these bikes is perfect, because kids will have more time to go outside and expend energy instead of sitting inside, getting in trouble.”
The bicycles will be used as a part of the school’s physical education curriculum as well as for weekly personalized learning classes.
Personalized learning is a new class at East Middle, and once a week students spend 100 minutes in one of 30 classes, from student government to mythology to cycling.
Roenicke said access to top quality bicycles, helmets and training will be unprecedented for many students, and that an increase of focused physical activity will help lower behavior issues and improve academics.
Beyond that, Roenicke hopes it changes their worlds.
“I’m going to really aim at showing them that solitude is a good thing, that the outdoors are a great thing and that they are far more capable than they realize, that they can help themselves,” Roenicke said. “When I was growing up, the focus on academics was important but it wasn’t at the exclusion of the things like athletics and outdoor activities. It seems like these days if the student isn’t in their seat, they’re somehow not learning. I think programs like these are going to help dispel that mindset.”