Students in Mt. Ararat Middle School’s alternative education class take a bike ride Thursday as they have daily this school year to get some exercise and fresh air before returning to the classroom. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

TOPSHAM — Every day after lunch this school year, students in Mt. Ararat Middle School’s alternative education class have donned helmets, jumped on their bikes and hit the trails.

Teacher John Hawley said the 11 students in his class ride for 30 to 45 minutes on trails around the middle school. The exercise and fresh air help the students focus better when they return to the classroom.

Hawley said the bike program was also in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. The current social distancing requirements make it very difficult to schedule field trips with a school bus. Especially on short notice. His students get a hands-on approach and study engineering, culinary skills and aquaponics — while learning the same subjects as other students.

“The nature of our team is, we sometimes kind of go on a whim on an adventure so it’s hard to plan a field trip,” Hawley said. “So we can hop on the bikes and go.”

The class has wheeled to the Cathance River Education Alliance, an ecology center that is a 3-mile drive from the middle school; and to Dairy Queen on Main Street.

“We have a handful of donated bikes, and bikes picked up from the picking pile at the dump,” Hawley said. “Some work better than others and there’s always a few that are not ridable on any given day.”

That will soon change as the Maine Environmental Education Association recently granted Hawley $1,500 to buy enough new bikes for each of his 11 students. This will ensure there are safe and reliable bikes for everyone to use. The grant program allowed teachers to apply for up to $1,500 to fund their outdoor learning projects.

The daily bike rides provide students exercise but also a natural mask break for kids, who naturally have to stay at a distance as they bike through trails. They still talk as they ride, Hawley said.

“It’s just getting all of that, I want to go outside, out of you,” said seventh-grader Joey Bernier. Not only is it a fun break from class, “it’s helping me do things physically.”

For seventh-grader Trevor Adams, having his daily bike ride helps get him out of bed in the morning. Not only does he enjoy getting on the trails, it helps him with school.

“Throughout the day you get tired and you just don’t want to do work, but being out for the bike ride, it will get you back and ready to work,” Adams said. “It helped me.”

Seventh-grader Kylie Goulet found a new passion as she learned how to navigate trails through the adjacent woods.

“It was challenging because there’s a lot of bumps but you get used to the bumps and short hills,” she said.

Hawley, a longtime biking enthusiast, said if this helps students decide to take a bike ride to get somewhere instead of a car or bus, it’s good for them and good for the environment.

“Another big part of it is just to help kids learn and appreciate and become good stewards for the environment,” Hawley said.

From right, Mt. Ararat Middle School students Joey Bernier, Trevor Adams, Kylie Goulet and teacher John Hawley ride bikes in front of the school Thursday. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

 

 

 

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