Originally published Sept. 30, 2020 by M-Live.

By Melissa Frick

Muskegon Public Schools is finding new ways to bring physical education to students while the district is online-only because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The district’s physical education teachers, with the help of local law enforcement, are leading a new bike riding club for K-8 students to ride safely through the Muskegon community. The daily program, which launched last week, begins and ends at one of the district’s four elementary schools Monday through Thursday.

“Our students love to be active,” said Jennifer Hammond, the district’s director of curriculum. “We often are confined by the four walls of the gymnasium for P.E., so this is just a lifelong skill of learning to love bike riding and knowing how to do it safely.”

Muskegon Public Schools started the school year online-only Aug. 26 in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. But the district has found unique ways to keep students engaged during virtual learning, including offering daily face-to-face tutoring sessions with teachers in small group settings.

Another way the district has complemented virtual learning is through the bike club program, titled EMBARK. The program is offered four days a week from 2:15-3:15 p.m. and was created in conjunction with the Muskegon Rotary Club.

School leaders started planning for the program by creating and inspecting local bike routes over the summer.

“We would look at stop signs, we would look for potholes, we would look for pedestrian crosswalks,” she said. “And then someone from our team would talk to the city of Muskegon and they would go out and make the route even safer.”

The program was originally intended to be a way for students to bike to and from school every day safely, Hammond said. But when the district announced it would be online-only this fall, school leaders still wanted to offer some kind of bike riding program to students.

So for now, the club will take students on a recreational bike ride around the community every day. About a dozen kids have participated in the program since it started last week, all ranging from grades K-8, Hammond said.

“One of our kindergarten students asked her P.E. teacher if she could come along even through she was still on training wheels, and he said, ‘Of course,’” Hammond said. “So he just kept at a slower pace alongside her."

Hammond said the program is open to all family members in the district and encourages parents to ride along as well. She said she hopes to eventually create a community bike route that any member of the community can use for safely riding their bikes around town.

The district is currently seeking volunteers to help by riding along to ensure student safety, which can be anyone in the Muskegon community. Volunteers can sign up here.

While the district is online-only right now, school leaders are looking to build up a volunteer base for if the district offers in-person learning – in which case, the program would be used for kids to ride their bikes to and from school in a “bike train.”

Because P.E. teachers would be busy teaching in-person classes, volunteers could step in to lead the after-school routes, Hammond said.

Rachel Fawcett, a Muskegon resident and member of the Rotary Club, said she hopes the program will boost physical activity in the community.

“I think this offers an opportunity for parents to engage with their children in a healthy way,” said Fawcett, who is the chair of the rotary club’s health and wellness committee. “I think it offers kids an opportunity to really own a program, and to develop leadership skills and safe biking skills.”

If the K-8 program goes well, Fawcett said she hopes to expand the program to Muskegon High School, as well as other districts in Muskegon County.

“Norton Shores, Reeths-Puffer, Whitehall, those are all areas that could implement the safe bike routes,” she said. “It would be my dream that people from every community would see this program and want to have it in their own community, and we could help with guiding them and developing those routes for every community in our county.”

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