“The Lee County School District offers a program to teach bicycle and pedestrian safety at its various elementary schools,” explained Heather Lodovico, the Physical Education Instructor & Music Teacher at the Beach Elementary School for the past 8 years. “The School District provides the trailer at no cost that is full of 15 to 20 bikes, with four scooters and roughly 100 safety helmets that they transport throughout the County, so when each individual school reserves it, that becomes ‘Bicycle Safety Week’ at that specific campus, so there is no one-week district-wide event during the academic year. For the Beach Elementary School, ‘Bicycle Safety Week’ was last week.”
“Bicycle Safety Week” occurs annually at Beach Elementary School, due to Coach Heather’s expertise. “I have special bicycle safety training, so I can pretty much get the bike trailer every year, because the School District does not have to assign an official trainer to us, so we have had the program for the past four or five years. In addition to my training, what makes it so convenient for the Beach Elementary School to get the trailer is because we can be flexible when we receive it because our enrollment is so small. That means I can teach it in a week; for many of the larger District schools, they need the trailer for a month or so to accommodate every student.”
Best In The District
This flexibility, she offered, “is just one more reason why the Beach Elementary School is the best in the entire District! Not only are our students, staff and parents terrific, but we receive outstanding community support, from groups like the Beach Kids Foundation and service clubs like Kiwanis and Lions. It seems like no matter what we need, all we have to do is make a telephone call and we have it by the end of the day! I think that is because Fort Myers Beach residents trust us, not only with the island children, but they understand that since we only have around 100 students each year, we do not receive much District funding, so the community goes above and beyond to support our needs. I am very fortunate as well that our Principal, Karen Manzi, allows me to request the bike trailer and teach the safety program, as not every administrator is that supportive. I so appreciate that she trusts me to help keep our students safe, so ‘Thank You’ to her!
“Bicycle Safety Week” begins by explaining to the students why it is so important to wear a bicycle helmet, “and not just because it is the law,” Coach Heather stated. “Bicycle helmets have Styrofoam protection, so we do a demonstration where we wrap an egg in Styrofoam, drop it on the ground, and it does not break, then we remove it and drop it again and the unprotected egg smashes, so if you have a brain and bike, you must wear a helmet, no matter how old you are, and the kids understand. If you do not wear a helmet and you fall and your head cracks against the cement, the cement will always win and it is just that simple, so if you have a brain you must wear a helmet.”
Coach Heather stressed that not only do none of the Beach Elementary School children bicycle without a helmet, “but if we learn they do not or cannot afford one, they will have one before they leave school that day, and we accomplish this through several resources. Our incredible Office Manager, Renee Mulloy, operates ‘Renee’s Closet’ that is a real closet in the School Office that she stocks with almost everything our students may need, and earlier this year, she put out a call for bicycle helmets and the community responded! The Fort Myers Beach Lions Club last year donated bicycle helmets, and finally Ed and Kim Ryan, who host ‘Beach Radio’ in Times Square on Saturday mornings recently hosted a ‘bicycle helmet fundraiser’ for us and dropped off a couple of dozen bike helmets.”
She noted, “Back when I was young, no one wore bicycle helmets and for a while there was a stigma that you shouldn’t because you did not look good in one or it would mess up your hair, but now there are so many styles, so kids today can absolutely find one or more to match their personality. I have a mohawk one, another for ‘Hello Kitty,’ and still another that is a pink rainbow and the kids see them and think they are so cool! Our biggest problem in getting kids to wear bike helmets is that so many of their parents do not, so that is a major issue. Many times, it is actually the children who go home and teach their Mom and Dad about bike safety and helmets!”
Tires & Brakes & Chains, Oh My!
Coach Heather instructs the kids about all major bicycle safety components. “We show them how to make sure their tires, brakes and chain are alright, followed by how to adjust their seat to the right height, along with the proper way to fit their helmet. We teach them the important rules of the road, such as that bicyclists should always ride with traffic, as opposed to walking against it. Even though the Estero Boulevard project is adding bicycle lanes on each side of the roadway, for right now, we advise the kids to ride on the sidewalk because at their age, sharing the street with cars is intimidating. Once all these safety elements are in place, I set up an obstacle course on our play yard and they bike to their heart’s content.”
She provides bike safety to every Beach Elementary child, from Kindergarten through 5th Grade, “because no matter their age, they all ride bikes or scooters at some point. Like with any skill, some kids take to it right away and others work at it, but when they get it, it is so cool to see, as they sort-of exclaim, ‘Oh My Gosh, I can do this!’ Those who aren’t so good on bicycles are usually those who do not ride much, so there is always the fear of the unknown until you do something more. Sure, you may fall when you start, but that is true of most things in life, so I teach that there is no disgrace in failure. Myself and all the students are so supportive, as that is the atmosphere I strive to create, and before you know it, you achieve your goal and have fun doing it. I have two missions I am passionate about for every Beach Elementary School child: that each can bike safely and every one of them can swim, because those two things done safely are what our beach community is all about.”
What surprised Coach Heather about Beach Elementary School children and their own personal bikes is that “most bicycles are either too big or too small for them! Often a new bike that might be a birthday or Christmas present might be too high, or many kids still have their original one that is now too small. What surprises me good is how many of our kids really enjoy bicycling and do so often. We usually hear that children spend all their time playing electronic or video games, but most of the ones here still want to play outside and ride bikes! During ‘Bicycle Safety Week,’ they could bring their own from home, our bike rack was full, and everyone had a helmet, and that made me happy, because in my generation, we went everywhere on our bikes.”
Just for the Fun of It
“I wish in the dream world of my imagination that the Bay Oaks Recreational Center had a biking and walking track, where parents and children could walk or bike safely together, without having to feel uneasy about kids in the roadway. I know there are discussions going on to update Bay Oaks, so I hope the powers-that-be take that into consideration, as that seems like a ‘no-brainer’ to me, because how cool would that be! Bicycling is simple and great exercise and kids love it, because it gets them outside every day. But while they know that biking is fun, they understand as well that there is a serious and even dangerous aspect to it, and that is why teaching bicycle safety is so important, and the children get that.”
As for what Coach Heather hopes her charges take away from Bicycle Safety Week, “I want them to be outside more, getting more exercise, to move more, but in a safe manner, and that is the biggest thing for me. The more you exercise outside, the happier you tend to be, and since most kids in the Beach Elementary School already own a bike, I want them on it more, just for the fun of it!”