By Stephani Dingreville

Corrales Elementary School (CES) is looking to replace its fleet of bicycles in the hopes of upholding a nearly 13-year-old tradition of teaching every student to ride a bike. Physical Education (PE) Coach Leah Dolan explains the importance of the bicycle education program, saying “Though Corrales is covered with many bike-friendly areas, there are not many places suited to beginning bike riders.

“My take on it is to let the students learn on our paved road, let them become familiar with the bike anatomy and the rules of the road here. Then, once they are comfortable, they can go back to their homes and be able to ride on gravel or sand.”

The bicycle fleet program began at CES in 2009, when this same idea prompted then PE Coach Toby Chavez to write a grant to the Village asking for money to buy a bicycle for every student.

Using a combined donation from the grandparent of a student, the Kiwanis Club of Corrales and federal funding from a program called Safe Routes to School, the bicycles were purchased. There were enough so that each student at Corrales Elementary could have his or her own shiny new mountain bike to use during PE. Coach Chavez was able to see that every student that graduated from CES did so knowing how to ride a bike.

As the years passed, and Chavez moved on to another school, the bikes gradually began to degrade. Regular use by elementary school students, a population subset not universally known for prudence or sagacity, has resulted in wear and damage to the bikes, especially the gears. 

Maintenance and upkeep became a personal expense for Chavez and continues to be so for Dolan, who reports laughingly that her husband “luckily worked in a bike shop in college.”

As the bikes have worn out, the Corrales school’s PTA has stepped in to replace one or two a year. However, in Dolan’s words, “they are degrading faster and faster now.”

This has prompted Dolan to reach out to the Village, asking for funding to buy new bikes.

Village Councillor Stuart Murray offered to organize a bicycle donation drive for the school, an offer Dolan declined.

“I have found the maintenance on a donated bike to be cost prohibitive,” Dolan says, adding, “Also it is much easier to teach the class if everyone is using the same model of bike.”

Dolan specifically hopes to buy single-speed bikes for the students, since the gears are where the bikes tend to wear out first.

Elena Kayak, former chair of the Corrales Bicycle, Pedestrian Advisory Commission, is helping Dolan in her efforts. At Kayak’s suggestion, Dolan reached out to Monica Montoya of the Brain Injury Advisory Council and was able to secure new helmets for every student.

“We’ve found that the more a student gets accustomed to putting on that helmet, and the more comfortable they are wearing it, the more likely they will be to put one on at home,” Dolan says.

Kayak is also instrumental in the effort to bring back the pre-pandemic Walk and Roll to School program at CES, along with Corrales Fire Chief Anthony Martinez. Once led by former kindergarten teacher Kathy Lang, the program saw groups of students walk or ride to school on bicycles from three different places in the village.

Principal Liv Baca-Hochhausler says, “During this pandemic I think we have all realized one important thing about in-person school is having another knowledgable adult in your child’s life to take them alongside and teach them something they might not learn from their parent. As we are opening back up and becoming more bike-friendly, I so appreciate Coach Dolan and our bicycle program. And I love the focus on safety!”

Both Principal Baca-Hochhausler and Coach Dolan encourage students who are already bike-proficient to ride their personal bikes safely to school.  Three different bike racks on campus are already set up so a student may park a bike for the day.

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