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A taste of freedom on wheels

Eighth-graders learn to ride bikes safely around town


by:  KATE HOOTS - Eighth-graders at Inza R. Wood Middle School return from a bike ride at the end of their wellness class period Oct. 29.Their vehicles have two wheels, not four, and they are powered by muscles alone. Nevertheless, eighth-grade students in Sarah Coffman and Jordan Scoggin’s classes at Inza R. Wood Middle School recently got a taste of the freedom that comes with driving independently around town.

The experience was part of a unit on biking in wellness class, and it was well timed, Coffman said.

“They look forward to it,” she said. “It’s something they don’t really know anything about. It’s good timing, right before they learn to drive a car.”

Both teachers drill students in the importance of paying attention on the road and about the meaning of road signs.

“They’ve been chauffeured around and they really haven’t been paying attention,” Scoggins said.

The unit starts with the most basic of lessons. Before the students even think about hitting the streets, they must learn about their vehicles, including how to raise and lower their seats, how to fit their helmets properly and how to pump up a tire. Only then are they ready to take a ride — starting with several days of laps around the school’s track.

“The lanes are the same size as a bike lane,” Coffman said, so it’s good practice. “Once they realize we’re very serious, they take it seriously.”

Each year, Coffman said, the eighth-grade class includes one or two students who have never ridden a bike and don’t know how. The school maintains a fleet of more than 20 bikes, which are available for students to check out for the program’s duration.

“After five days with us, they learn,” she said. The laps students take around the track allow new bikers a chance to gain confidence and improve their skills before taking a longer ride off the Wood campus.by: KATE HOOTS - Jordan Scoggins and Sarah Coffman teach biking and bike safety skills to eighth-graders at Inza R. Wood Middle School.

Before that moment comes, the students have been drilled in the rules of the road, including how to use hand signals to indicate turns, how to stop safely, how to stay within the bike lane and how to safely merge into traffic.

Students ride in teams of four, with each student having a job to do within the group. One team member, wearing a reflective safety vest, serves as the team’s coach, riding in the back of the group and keeping an eye on the rest of the team. An assistant coach rides in front, leading the way. A third student serves as the safety police, making sure the riders obey the rules — and reporting violations to Coffman and Scoggins. The fourth student serves as the sentinel, dismounting at times and waiting until the group behind catches up and pointing out the route to follow.

“We have a really great community for biking,” Coffman said. During the biking unit, students take two or three 25-minute bike rides through the neighborhoods around Wood each week. When biking, the students are divided into faster and slower groups of riders. The teachers spread out among the riders, and they are joined by two to four adult volunteers each time.

On Oct. 22, Jen Massa Smith was one of those volunteers. She is a program manager for SMART Transit, the city of Wilsonville’s transportation system. SMART has a long-range plan to support walking and biking in the city, she said.

“Sarah was looking for volunteers, so I rode with them last year,” she said. “It ties into our messaging, so we want to support it when we can.”

She often sees bikes parked at area schools.

“Bikes are a vehicle for freedom,” she said. “It’s so great that the school does this. And so important.”by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Eighth-graders line up on their bikes in front of a stop sign in Wilsonville.

“Parents have been really supportive,” Coffman said of the program. “We’re teaching (students) something that is a lifelong skill.”

Both the teachers and Massa Smith emphasized the importance of wearing a helmet. Oregon requires any person under the age of 16 riding a bicycle or being transported on a bicycle to wear approved protective headgear. Every rider from Wood was wearing an appropriate helmet.

“It’s really important to wear a helmet, for children and adults,” Massa Smith said. “If you love your brain, wear a helmet.”

Kate Hoots can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 112.



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