“I’d say my students and I have biked every street in town,” said Cody Gross, Physical Education Teacher at Blackduck Public Schools. Located just a hop, skip, or an easy bike ride from Chippewa National Forest and its namesake, Blackduck Lake, the Blackduck Public Schools has its ducks in a row when it comes to bicycling.
Cody has been teaching since 2011 and has been teaching bicycle education in his classroom since 2015, when he attended a Walk! Bike! Fun! Pedestrian and Bicycle Curriculum training hosted by BikeMN. Almost immediately after the training, Cody piloted integrating the biking components of the curriculum into his fourth grade physical education class. It went so well that by the 2016 school year he was teaching bike education to 4th-6th graders. Thanks to a grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) in 2016, Blackduck Schools was able to acquire a fleet of 30 size-adjustable bikes to share with neighboring Kelliher Public School. By 2017, he was teaching K-3rd graders bike education as well!
“Having our own bikes made things so much easier for us,” said Cody. “One of my big challenges was that kids would get to fourth grade and not have bicycling skills. Some didn’t know how to ride a bike. Getting those kids caught up to their peers was hard.” In addition to the fleet of standard bikes, the local Fitness Fund Committee purchased 30 Go Glider balance bikes in 2017. With the balance bikes, Cody is able to teach balance and handling skills to his youngest students so they’re ready to hop on a pedal bike by 4th grade.
Cody estimates that Blackduck Schools kids in grades K-6 get 15-20 days per school year on a bike―that’s no small feat! Between learning handling skills and the power-pedal technique in the gym, practicing signaling and communicating on rides around the school, group rides to Blackduck Bowling Lanes for ice cream, and field trips through Itasca and Bemidji State Parks, Cody keeps his kids on the move. Teachers like Cody are making a difference for kids who may not otherwise get bike education. Thanks to his work, the students in his class will grow up to be safer cyclists and drivers.
BikeMN is no stranger to Blackduck. We first visited the town in 2013 to kick-off a Bicycle Friendly Community project and attend a Walk Audit hosted by Headwaters Regional Development Commission (HRDC). Since then we’ve been back a few times to continue bicycle-friendly work and teach that Walk! Bike! Fun! Curriculum training Cody attended. (These trainings are funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation through the Minnesota Safe Routes to School program.) We’re so excited to see the great strides that Blackduck has made in the past five years toward becoming a great town to bike in. Thanks to dedicated teachers, a committed school district, support from SHIP, and help from the HRDC, we know we can look forward to more great things in the future!