Gretchen Johnson’s first email was sent my way as her request was far more than the typical one-off fundraising request typically seen at Strider Bikes. She already had a few Strider 12 Balance Bikes in use during her PE class. Her goal was to add a bigger Strider Bike for older students as well as a visually impaired student who enjoyed riding. I excitedly responded and encouraged her to apply through the Strider® Education Foundation. Bikes and curriculum to teach ALL kids to ride – it’s the perfect combination.
That was January 2018.
Fast forward to late Fall 2018 and a discussion between friends about the launch of the Kindergarten PE Program. The friendly conversation led to one friend ready to get kids in his town riding bikes and immediately knew the perfect teacher to lead the charge.
Any surprise that this is where we come full circle?
Gretchen Johnson, PE Teacher at Cleveland Elementary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, received the All Kids Bike Kindergarten PE Program, including the curriculum and a full fleet of Strider 14x Learn-To-Ride Bikes in March of 2019. This was the FIRST Kindergarten PE Program in the Sioux Falls School District to boot.
Gretchen has been a champion for her students from my very first interaction with her, and I have no doubt that she has embodied this from day one – championing equality and opportunity for Every. Single. One. of her students along the way. Witnessing her commitment to her students, first-hand, is quite a treat.
Q: How transformative has the Kindergarten PE Program been for your students?
A: This program has transformed my classroom into more than just physical education; it has taught my students how to set goals, how to overcome obstacles and push themselves past the fear of the unknown.
Q: What changes have you seen in individual students?
A: I have individual students go from a Strider [Balance] Bike to the pedal Strider within a couple of days to weeks. The confidence that my students are making is unreal, I have had students fear the bike but we started by just looking at the bike, to touching the bike, to sitting on the bike and eventually to try out the Strider. The best part for me is to see them smile and reach their goal of just striding or even pedaling.
Q: How easy was it to implement the Kindergarten PE Program in your school?
A: The [Kindergarten PE] program has been easy to implement, with our change in the schedule, I thought it would be more difficult, but in reality, learning to ride a bike marks off a lot of standards in our curriculum. I add the bikes in weekly as it is a big deal for my students.
Q: Did you have any reservations about incorporating the Kindergarten PE Program?
A: Not one hesitation, I love riding bikes and know what it has done for me. I want others to have that same experience. My students are learning a lifetime skill, and a skill that will let them go and do things, a skill that will help them use their imagination.
Q: In your opinion, what is the best part of the Kindergarten PE Program?
A: The best part of the [Kindergarten PE] program is seeing the success in my students; I feel the program does a great job of breaking down the steps, so all riders feel comfortable. The other best thing is seeing the smile on my students’ faces when it all comes together.
Gretchen gives her older students tasks to include them in the Kindergarten PE Program. Gretchen adds, “I also have a few students who love bikes and have done a great job of working on the bikes and keeping them clean, etc.” They’re proud to help and still feel a part of the program by assisting with the bikes.
“I am going to add a picture of one of my older students working on the bike; he also knows how to fit the kindergartners and will help with changes if needed.” Gretchen epitomizes the teacher every parent wants their student to have. She ended with, “I love my job and this program! Thank you for letting us have such a great opportunity.”
Gretchen recently sent me a photo of her visually impaired 4th-grade student on his bike. Her student had asked her if I could come to the school that day so he could thank me and show me how good he is at riding his new bike. The photo showed such incredible joy, and I cried at the sight of his sweet smile.
When speaking with Gretchen, you know she focuses on what is best for her students. She’s continually thinking about how to connect with each student, but also the school as a whole. This is not only evident in watching how she relates to all of her students, but more importantly, you can feel it.
Rockstars don’t always tour with big bands or jam on stage with crazy light shows; they often give their hearts where they’re guided and shine in many different ways – and her heart is definitely in the school gym with her students where she shines, incredibly bright, and radiates through every person she comes in contact.
Jenn Smith is a mom to three kids with wildly different personalities. She is a wannabe mountain biker that thrives on peopling. She’s also an avid autodidact that loves to share all the random things she knows – whether you think they’re interesting or not.