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Escalante Middle School students ride in style for physical education

New bike program presents equitable opportunity for those interested in cycling
Eva Duce, physical education teacher at Escalante Middle School, helps sixth grade students adjust mountain bikes on Thursday. The bikes were purchased thanks to a $35,000 grant. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Escalante Middle School unveiled 35 new mountain bikes Thursday as part of the school’s new physical education program.

In late September, the middle school was awarded a grant from Outride, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of youths through cycling. Applied for by Escalante physical education teacher Eva Duce, the grant provides 35 bikes costing about $1,000 per bike.

Escalante Middle School students Crew Lake, 11, left, and Octavio Osborn measure their height so they can select the right size of mountain bike on Thursday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Mountain Bike Specialists supported the effort by building, storing and delivering the bikes to Escalante. Duce works for Mountain Bike Specialists during the summer, and talked to store management about helping the program. The pilot program is for the sixth grade class, but the school is looking to include other grades in the future.

“We are so grateful for this generous donation of time and services,” Duce said. “Without the MBS team, we couldn’t have made this work.”

She said Mountain Bike Specialists committed to almost $4,000 worth of labor to help the program.

The idea started when Duce realized Escalante Middle School students were significantly underrepresented in Durango youth cycling programs.

“We kind of realized a void in our community,” she said. “And we also noticed that some of our kids don’t even know how to ride a bike.”

Physical education teacher Will Dodd said the program will benefit students in other aspects of their studies, because statistics show exercise and riding a bike helps mentally.

Will Dodd, physical education teacher at Escalante Middle School, explains to sixth grade students how to adjust mountain bikes on Thursday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Escalante Middle School sixth grade students select the right size of mountain bikes on Thursday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Dodd said classes will operate at a beginner pace. Students started their first class Thursday learning how to fit a bike. Both Duce and Dodd walked around the gym helping students with measurements.

While Escalante received mountain bikes, Dodd said the learning goal is not mountain bike specific. Both teachers want students to learn how to ride a bike safely and understand the benefits of cycling.

“It gives them the safety and awareness how to ride in a town setting,” he said. “For example riding with traffic, with stoplights, street stop signs or with pedestrians.”

Dodd hopes the classes inspire enough student interest to bring back the school’s mountain biking club that was stopped as a result of COVID-19. He said there have been discussions of adding small single-track trails around the school’s campus.

Duce said the bike classes fit well with the district’s Portrait of a Graduate plan.

Students who are in groups with different ability levels must be empathic collaborators, which is one of the milestones for Portrait of a Graduate. More experienced cycling students will have the chance to put their courage to the test by leading their less-experienced classmates.

“I feel like we have some really good collaboration opportunities,” she said. “And especially for those kids who have never ridden, what's a bigger risk than learning a new skill?”


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