“Now we’re just going to sprinkle them with a little holy water,” Msgr. John Barry told a crowd of young students, teachers, parents, city officials and representatives early Monday morning at American Martyrs School in Manhattan Beach.
Msgr. Barry walked down to the campus basketball courts, where there sat two newly installed bike racks filed with a multitude of bicycles. He sprayed them with symbolic blessing from a glass of water in his hand.
With the conclusion of the morning’s “Blessing of the Bikes” ceremony, American Martyrs, a K-8 private Catholic school in Manhattan Beach, became the first school in the South Bay to integrate a bicycle safety curriculum into regular class instruction. Tailored specifically for each grade, the curriculum, instructed by three specially certified teachers, will teach students and parents bicycle safety, road rules as well as health and environmental benefits from cycling.
Additionally, the program strives to create a more bicycle-friendly campus. Two more bike racks will be installed on campus, and some 50 helmets will be available in the storage for students who need it, said Jim Hannon, president of the South Bay Bicycle Coalition.
“Personally I couldn’t be more excited about this,” Hannon said. “It’s a dream come true. We’ve been talking about this and planning this for many years actually, even though the wheels started turning just 10 months ago.”
What preceded the introduction of this landmark program Monday was years of SBBC members occasionally visiting classrooms to give a presentation about bicycle safety and rules, Hannon said.
“But that was a short-term solution,” he said. “We couldn’t sustain it.”
So late last year, he and his team formulated a long-term solution in the form of a proposal to Beach Cities Health District, dictating a plan to implement bicycle education programs in local schools. They believed the instruction would be more effective if taught regularly by teachers who have already established relationships with students and parents. BCHD readily agreed to grant $3,500 to kickstart the program.
“Of course we’re gonna support them because that’s what we’re there for,” said Susan Burden, CEO of BCHD. “They do an amazing job … it’s all about health, safety and bicycles and we always say yes.”
And so began the search for the perfect school to “launch the prototype,” Hannon said. SBBC created a list of middle schools in Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach that expressed interest in the program and interviewed each of the principals. American Martyrs made the final cut, he explained, due to their level of commitment and volume of teachers and staff who are enthusiastic cyclists.
Roy Quinto, American Martyrs School’s vice principal, is one of them. Quinto, who lives in Playa Del Vista, said he wakes up early to bike to the school every day.
“I was thinking to myself, if the kids could get a dose of the feeling of being awake and energized for the start of the school day, then I’m sure they’ll accomplish a lot more in their studies,” he said. “I thought this would be a great way to expose the kids to healthy habits and encourage them to not only help the environment but help themselves in the long run.”
SBBC thereafter selected three American Martyrs teachers to undergo a certification program and receive comprehensive instruction on bicycle education and safety. Those teachers will go around classrooms to instruct students with the curriculum they helped create with SBBC, Hannon said.
Hannon said he believes “this is the first of many” in the South Bay. Expansion of the program to other schools will depend on its success at American Martyrs, he said. One way to measure that success will be by keeping track of the number of bicycles on campus, pre-implementation and post.
“What we want to do is to create the next generation of cyclists and make sure they’re safe and have good habits,” Hannon said. “There are no opportunities out there for kids to develop and be educated in how to ride a bike, not like a car where they have driver’s ed.”
This could mark the beginning of a healthy, environmentally-counscious movement in younger South Bay residents as well as entire families, he said. Msgr. Barry has already asked SBBC to install a bike rack in front of the American Martyrs Church as a way to encourage families to pedal together instead of driving.