Road Trip: Bath Middle School
Long known as the City of Ships, Bath, Maine sits 30 miles northeast of Portland, Maine on the Kennebec River, where its residents have historically been building ships for over 400 years. But within the 9.2 square miles of the city, there is a network of 20-30 miles of multi-use trails to connect parks, schools, and cultural highlights—all amazing places to ride.
Nestled on one of those pristine riding trails sits Bath Middle School, one of our Riding for Focus school programs.
While it may be winter-time in Maine, Bath Middle School has extended their riding season as far as they could in order to jumpstart their school day with daily rides that start just after dawn. The school program's success is attributable to the school champion teacher, Lawrence Kovacs. If he had his way, kids would be running, paddling, and riding their way to school each day. No cars or buses allowed. Not a bad idea, though, for at least half of the school year it snows and gets rather cold. How cold, you ask? "It was cold enough that the water from the hose froze on some of the bikes on contact," shared Lawrence on his Riding for Focus (R4F) blog that captures highlights of the school program and activities.
Kovacs, Sagadahoc County’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, founded the Fundamental Learning on Water Program at Regional School Unit 1, which is an effort to introduce Maine eighth graders to camping. Smartphones and television are replaced with paddling and pitching a tent, building a fire, and conducting field studies. For many kids, it’s truly a life-changing experience. Kovacs, a one-time Outward Bound instructor, is focused on introducing middle schoolers to another one of life’s pleasures: mountain biking.
“The Specialized Foundation is doing the science to empirically measure something many have suspected for years: Exercise improves mood, cognition, reduces depressive ideation, improves focus, builds self-esteem, creates friendships, and makes you smarter,” Kovacs said. "I am with Dr. Kim Price of The Specialized Foundation on this subject." Kim, who holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, points out that extensive research has shown that, "When kids are given the opportunity to be active during the school day, they actually perform better."
Kovacs, along with two other adults, now leads a group of 22 Riding for Focus students on an outing before school four mornings a week, shortly after the sun rises at seven. The kids arrive at school bright-eyed and awake, the fresh morning air fueling their lungs and brains. All the grant bikes are spoken for, and Kovacs says he has another 60 kids who want to be a part of the program.
We had a chance to interview Kaleb, one of the students in the class who enthusiastically shared his love for riding and said his favorite part of the morning ride is "feeling the breeze on my face." Kaleb, who commutes to school on his bike has a passion for science and math and has expressed an interest in designing the graphics for the bikes one day. There were no objections on his part to learning new bike skills, bike safety tips, and even lending a hand to building the new pump track at the school. Kaleb was ready and prepared for his final road ready written skills test that would wrap up the bike program until spring when the warmer weather returns. “There isn’t anything about riding that I don’t like” shared Kaleb with a huge smile on his face.
Current Riding for Focus Stats at Bath Middle School
1,900 = Number of calories each kid has burned
600 = Number of total miles ridden
150 = Total hours ridden
7.5 = Total hours of individual ride time
Retailer Spotlight: Center Street Cycles
Center Street Cycles in Brunswick, Maine is the Riding for Focus partner dealer for Bath Middle School and provides assistance with bike assembly, delivery and maintenance. Eleven Center Street has been the location of Brunswick’s downtown bike shop for over sixty years with bike store owner Lee Huston in charge. Lee commented the program has been so successful and the shop is on board to help in any way they can. The pump track the school built is really the big hit for the year. I joined the ribbon cutting opening and saw a lot of smiling faces.