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Riding for Focus Awards Grant to Culbreth Middle School

Last April when the 2019 Riding for Focus grants were announced, Culbreth Middle School (CMS) was one of two winning schools in North Carolina, among the 41 recipients nationally. Social studies teacher, Billy Giblin, is a lifelong cyclist, and he knew the innovative program could be a great fit for many students at CMS. Before first period on Friday, October 4, Giblin and his eighth grade advisory students could be seen on the school track, pedaling the new mountain bikes, wearing matching helmets for their inaugural group ride in the bright sunshine.

Riding for Focus awards a full complement of bicycles, equipment and curriculum resources to integrate into a comprehensive program to help students achieve academic and wellness benefits, as well as greater social success. Founded in 2014 under the name Specialized Foundation, but recently renamed Outride, the nonprofit is designed to introduce students to cycling's positive effects, with a particular emphasis on supporting students with learning differences like ADHD.

Giblin is quick to acknowledge that his passion for cycling is connected to his own need and desire to stay active throughout each day. “In the late 80’s and 90’s, when I started riding, cycling was considered weird by a lot of kids. When I was in high school, I really struggled focusing in school, and I learned I always needed to do something physical to maintain focus.”

Although his advisory students have only experienced one full session riding, they can already name the benefits they predict they’ll achieve. “I think I’ll start focusing more in school,” said one girl. Another girl said, “It’s going to get my brain ready for learning.”

CMS Ride to Focus Giblin said one to two advisory groups will ride once or twice a week, starting before the first bell rings to provide extra time before students begin their classwork. “I can imagine us expanding for groups to ride Monday through Friday, and eventually implementing into all P.E. classes, starting in the near future. Students in the after school program will also be able to ride one to two times a week. We are in the early stages of the program and trying to get all the parts working together.” 

In addition to the mountain bikes, helmets and a high tech pump, the grant provided computers for students to monitor their progress and mileage, as well as maintenance for the bikes by Clean Machine in Carrboro. As an integral foundational support, the organization provides travel and training for one staff member, so PE teacher, William Marston, flew to the Outride center in San Jose, California, over the summer. Marston learned about the science behind the Ride for Focus program and curriculum and was able to visit the research facility at Stanford University.

Marston and others created a video as part of the grant application. “My angle was always ADHD kids being able to get their brains active, in order to improve test scores as well as behavior. The other main issue is the benefits of nonload-bearing cardio exercise. We have several kids with degenerative or osteoarthritic joint disorders that prevent them from participating in traditional exercise regimens.”

Marston said the Outride trainers taught the participants how to properly size the bikes for students. “The major points of emphasis were on safety, of course --  how to signal, and how to obey road signs.” But Marston noted the students will not be riding on the open roads, but instead on the track at CMS, as well as the many trails on the school property. “The Stanford trip was amazing,” he said. “The research team was very informative. Most of the research is conducted on how the brain is activated while riding a bike. They had specialized EEG caps to track brain waves and demonstrated this for us.”

 Before the Specialized Foundation became a 501c, the CEO and Founder, Mike Sinyard, commissioned RTSG Neuroscience Consultants to explore the possibilities for integrating cycling into a comprehensive therapy program for young people with ADHD. They analyzed cognitive, emotional and social changes, in addition to changes in balance and physical condition before, during and after the program. The results were convincing, revealing positively altered brain activity, increased attention span, improved moods and greater fitness. 

CMS Principal Monica Bintz said, “The grant is meant to specifically target students with attention difficulties, as a means to improve school performance through biking as a form of physical activity. We are targeting students who would benefit from some physical activity in their day, as well as those who need some additional ‘hooks’ to buy into school. So while we are looking at students with ADHD diagnoses, we have broadened that net to include other students who struggle to attend school for various reasons.”

The organization has targeted middle school students as their prime recipients, and the grants are awarded to that age group specifically. Evidence shows that when young people make cycling a normal and consistent part of their day in school, more of them will maintain the habit into adulthood. 

The feedback from participating schools has exceeded many educators’ expectations, with 90% of teachers reporting improvements in students’ classroom behavior, confidence and physical health since the launch of the program in their schools. And by giving students the opportunity and motivation to ride during the school day, with top quality bikes, the program can serve students who come from geographically or financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

Marston said, “This program is going to change a lot of young lives.” 

Giblin added, “What is a really good intervention (for students with ADHD) is also excellent for all students. We are using this program to help students who are struggling with being connected to the school and need some sort of outlet or domain where school can be fun and engaging. The bicycle has always provided so much joy and inspiration for me, and I’m  hoping it can do the same for my students as well.”

 “We are so excited to have this program at Culbreth this year,” said Bintz, “and we look forward to adding it to our repertoire of interventions and offerings to help engage all students in our community.”

 From the Outride website: “So many childhoods are far from carefree. ADHD. Obesity. Anxiety. Isolation. These are problems you can’t run from, but you can outride them. We are harnessing the power of cycling to help children stay focused, active and engaged. To ride with friends, not scroll past them. To feel the wind on their faces and fresh air in their lungs. Give a kid two wheels, and you give them the world. Let’s see how far their legs can take them.”