Framing the front entrance of Kenai Middle School are racks stacked with Trek mountain bikes. They were not ridden to school by students, but purchased for school use three years ago, and since, the program has taken off.
Physical education classes, students on break at lunch, Kenai Central High School, local organizations, and after school sports teams make full use of the sleek fleet.
“It’s sure nice to see 13- and 14-year-olds riding a bike at lunch time. Rather than trying to be a grown-up, they are still trying to be a kid,” said school principal Vaughn Dosko.
Dosko was a driving force behind the equipment purchase. Dosko was selected at the 2010-2011 Alaska Assistant Principal of the Year by the Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals, and attended the Assistant Principal of the Year Forum in Washington, D.C., for receiving the award. During his trip he was tipped off to the rising popularity of schools buying bicycles in the Lower 48 by other educators and knew he wanted his students to have the same opportunity.
The bikes are most used in early autumn and spring, Dosko said, but classes go riding and students borrow them until it gets too cold. During lunchtime, when the bikes are available to be ridden around the perimeter of the building, a line as long as 40 kids can be seen rolling along, he said.
“There are kids that play football, and kids that play baseball, and kids that play soccer and there’s kids that ride bikes,” Dosko said.
Sixth grader Maccoy Castillo is one of those kids.
“I believe I would probably do it (ride) until I can’t get on a bike,” Castillo said.
When his PE teacher first told him that he and his classmates would be using them he thought riding during school would be “extremely exciting.”
“Bike riding in general is really fun, and doing it with the entire class, going a couple of times around the block here and there because you get to ride with your friends,” Castillo said.
Castillo has been biking since he was 4 years old. He borrows the equipment during lunch and of course after school he takes out his own. His teachers have a few “rules of the road,” but not many, Castillo said.
“They say to stay safe and have fun,” Castillo said. “These are the two main things.”
First-timer, sixth-grader Alora Barlow said she hadn’t ridden before she arrived at Kenai Middle School. A few days ago, Dosko helped teach her the basics.
“I fell a few times, but after that I was good,” Barlow said. “It’s easier than walking everywhere, its fun to go fast and do new tricks.”
Her second day on the road Barlow went on rougher terrain when her PE teacher Cathy Zorbas took the class on dirt trails. She said she hit the dirt again, but got right up and had mastered the moves by the end of the course.
Barlow was given a bike by her grandmother since realizing her affinity for the sport, which she now uses once the school day is over.
Zorbas said the first time she was “a little overwhelmed” when told she would have to teach students while mobilized. She found a safety video, which she now bypasses having taught the course for a few years.
Classes include bike maintenance as, from time to time, rogue chains will pop off, Zorbas said.
“It’s a pretty simple fix but if you didn’t know how to your bike wouldn’t work at all,” Zorbas said.
Incorporating the equipment into the classroom has helped teach students “a really good life activity,” Zorbas said.
“It teaches them lifelong fitness,” Dosko said.
The entire group of bikes was purchased locally from Beemun’s Variety and True Value in Soldotna, Dosko said. The owners since have spent much time and labor keeping the fleet in good condition, he said.
Barlow said she has some sound advice for new riders: “You fall and you fall but you have to keep trying.”