Arkansas Arts Academy
by Eddie Smith Photography novo studio
Four years ago, the Arkansas Arts Academy hired new CEO Mary Ley, and the first thing she did was add cycling to the curriculum. “Cycling has made positive impacts on the students, staff, school culture and even the arts,” Mrs. Ley says. “And if cycling were a student, I would give it an A+.” Here are a few of the specific areas in which cycling has played a role at the Arkansas Arts Academy.
The Impact on the Arts
The high school is located five blocks from the Railyard Bike Park in Rogers, and the paved trail connects to the soft surface trails at Lake Atalanta. Eddie Smith is a PE and Health teacher and oversees the cycling program at the Arts Academy. He says, “Nothing is more satisfying to me as a teacher than riding along with students and observing a student point out how cool the big sycamore tree is as one of its large branches twists, turns and dips into the water—and then to see them draw it in their sketchbook later. It is equally satisfying to watch students learn to navigate tricky rock bridges as they ride through the terrain, then to realize it is another way to dance. Creativity begins with observation and exposure. Cycling allows students to be part of the environment, which is something a traditional classroom does not accomplish as well.”
Building self-esteem and confidence is mandatory for student success. Bicycling does not discriminate. Thanks to the support of the bike, it does not matter what size, shape or gender you are. Students can ride side by side and no one feels left out or humiliated. This emotionally frees students to collaborate and make new friends, which results in a healthier learning environment.
Bicycling provides a rich curriculum. Safety first—always. Students learn how to properly sit on a bike, how to adjust their helmets and how to place their feet on the pedals to gain the most power. Students learn hand signals, navigating traffic and how to ride on different surfaces. Students learn about the components of the bike: The variety of alloys the frames are made of and how they affect the performance of the bike; the difference between wheels on a road bike and a mountain bike. Students learn about heart rates, cadence and how much bicycling it takes to impact their health. Students learn about diet and how it affects your energy when riding a bike. Students learn the difference between the casual rider and the serious competitive rider—Arkansas Arts Academy is proud to have organized the first Arkansas National Inerscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) student mountain bike team.
The bike is also integrated into the classroom. In math and science, students learn about the physics of a bike, how to create aerodynamics and how shocks work to absorb the brutality of a rugged dirt and rock trail. There are many historic ways to study cycling. One favorite way is to have students read Road to Valor. It is the story of Gino Bartali, two-time Tour de France winner. He aided the Italian Resistance against the Nazis during World War II by smuggling identity documents hidden in his bike frame past Nazi checkpoints, under the guise of a national hero in training. Do not forget experiencing the treasures of Arkansas in the nature that surrounds the cyclist; students can learn the names of animal and plant species and identify them on their rides. Of course, there are also the mechanical lessons gained while students are taught the responsibility of taking care of their equipment, including what happens when you shift gears, how and why to oil your chain, and keeping the right amount of air pressure in your tires. Curriculum ideas are endless. Even Einstein realized the wisdom of cycling as evidenced by his quote, “I thought of that while riding my bicycle.”