NEW MILFORD — About a dozen students donned bicycle helmets, climbed onto bikes and set off Monday morning, circling the high school to practice their bike safety skills as part of one of the school’s newest gym units.

This is the first year the high school offered the bike safety class, and staff members already have plans to expand it.

“I hope it evolves and continues,” said Bob Burkhart, head of the school’s physical education department. “Kids today don’t ride their bikes and get outside as much as kids used to and should.”

Students are taught hand signals and the rules of the road, as well as how to make basic safety checks and quick fixes such as putting bike chains on. They navigate a course through cones to practice control.

“These are good skills to have,” senior Kayla Foster said. Now that she’s taken the class, she said, her mom — an avid cyclist — frequently asks to join her on longer rides.

Brianna LeRose, a senior, said she appreciated learning the hand signals, practicing changing gears and riding on both pavement and grass.

More Information

Want to help?

People can volunteer or donate to the New Milford River Trail Association by visiting www.nmbikewalk.org

Anyone wishing to donate bikes or helmets to the safety program can reach out to Burkhart at the high school.

Burkhart said the school wanted to offer a bike safety unit about 10 years ago, but lacked the money to support it. Money finally became available in this year’s budget, and with donations from teachers, the department was able to get 13 bikes and helmets for this school year. The New Milford River Trail Association collected money during the Give Local campaign to donate 15 bikes and helmets for next year, as well as three years of maintenance, all through Bike Express, a local shop.

Physical education teacher Sean Murray said the department tries to get students doing fitness activities they can follow throughout their lives, and cycling was an ideal fit.

Several students already plan to continue cycling after graduation, and taking their bikes to college with them.

“It’s good for fitness,” said senior Olivia Thalassinos. “We’re athletes now, but we won’t always have our sports.”

She said she now feels prepared if she wants to take her bike outside her neighborhood.

“You didn’t have to do bike safety on a cul-de-sac,” Thalassinos said.

Murray said these safety skills are especially needed in New Milford, where cyclists have to bike along routes 7 and 202 to travel in town.

“You’re going to be on roads that a lot of people use and drive pretty fast on,” he said.

The bike safety unit is offered to about a dozen students in four of the eight gym classes, based on the number of students, faculty and bikes available. Each unit runs for six classes.

Lisa Arasim, the treasurer for the River Trail Association, said the group decided to help after she heard her children talking about it after school one day. She said the school’s program complements the association’s mission to make the town more friendly for cyclists and pedestrians.

Tom O’Brien, who chairs the association and is also a certified bike instructor with the League of American Cyclists, worked with the gym teachers on how to teach basic cycling safety.

“It’s more than just understanding how to ride a bike, it’s understanding how to ride it safely on the roadways,” she said.

Arasim said teaching these skills to the students who are also young drivers will raise their awareness of how to interact with cyclists on the road, too.

“I’m so proud of the high school for starting it and I’m excited we were able to partner with them,” Arasim said.

The students also appreciate the school’s decision to offer the program because it’s a fun way to get outside and it diversifies the gym options, adding an alternative to running.

“It’s definitely something that gets your mind off the usual schoolwork,” Thalassinos said.

LeRose added, “I definitely look forward to this class.”