Bike to school program promotes healthy lifestyle

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Zimmerly Elementary School offers a bike to school event at the beginning of each month.

The event is for students who are interested in being independent and riding their bikes for exercise to have a healthier lifestyle. National Bike to School Day is celebrated in May, and Zimmerly started its bike to school event in April 2012, said head of teachers Janice Jaramillo. The goal of the event is to get the students more involved in extracurricular activities and to be more active, she said.

Health promotion specialist Nadine Ulibarri-Keller wanted to initiate the bike to school event so she talked to Jaramillo about the program through the health department and asked for support from schools, Jaramillo said. Bike to school started as a one-time event in health activities for the students, and Jaramillo encouraged the event to be monthly. Ulibarri-Keller wanted to reach out to the students and adults to keep them involved in health, Jaramillo said.

"It is a safe opportunity to learn to ride a bike safely, with a volunteer to help them (students) learn the bike rules and procedures," Jaramillo said.

As word got out, students from Cottonwood Valley Charter School and Sarracino Middle School showed up at Zimmerly's pick-up points and were included in the event, she said.

All students who participate sign in at one of the four gathering locations by 7:30 a.m. and leave at 7:45 a.m. to get to school. At each location, to ensure the child's safety to get to school, volunteers join the students and help them along the path. Some of the parents who volunteer for the event come with bikes, she said.

Anyone can be a volunteer. Jaramillo said there have been volunteers ranging from nurses to police officers. Volunteers are teaching the students the rules of the road so when students aren't chaperoned, they can follow safety rules, she said. Students meet with volunteers at the end of the day by 2:40 p.m. at the school to bike back to their designated drop-off point, she said.

Fifth-grade student Kenneth Everhart said his favorite thing about riding his bike is going uphill and downhill.

"I like to ride my bike because it is faster than walking," he said.

Jaramillo said each volunteer is trained in bike safety to take the students through the safest routes to get to school. Students use hand signals and are taught how to cross the road, she said. When riding their bikes to school, students are required to wear safety helmets, and if they don't have one they are given one.

Jaramillo said there are some students who want to participate in the bike to school event but face issues such as flat tires and broken bikes so they can't attend.

The number of students who participate in the bike to school program increases and decreases depending on the weather, she said. She would like to see more students participating as the weather warms up.

"My favorite thing about riding my bike to school is the wind blowing in my face and hair," fifth-grade student Alex Rivera said.

The four meeting locations where students gather include the north location at the Latter Day Saints Church parking lot on El Camino Real, across from the city pool. The east location is at the RAKS parking lot at 501 Otero Ave., and the south one is at the First Baptist Church parking lot at 203 Spring St. The west location is at the New Mexico Tech pool parking lot.

Kayla Botko, a fifth-grader, said there is a lot of traffic sometimes when she rides her bike to school, but she likes to ride her bike with friends.

"I like to ride my bike to feel the coolness and get awake," she said.

"The parents need to encourage students; it is a good activity and it is a healthy activity. It is a mode of transportation as students get older," Jaramillo said.

"My favorite is getting to see the sunrise and I get to ride through it," said fifth-grader Carmen Apodaca, who likes to ride her bike to school because she gets exercise in the morning and it refreshes her.

Jaramillo said there are not many students who bike to school, but those who do get attention and can pick from a prize box. Students also get pictures taken of them, she said.

The next bike to school event at Zimmerly will be March 6. Fitness Nutrition, Socorro Consolidated Schools, Presbyterian Socorro General Hospital and Healthy Kids, Socorro are very involved with the program and most volunteers come from these programs, she said.

"The goal is to give the kids a different avenue to get to school," Jaramillo said. "The major goal is to keep them active."