On Monday morning, Scott J. Thrasher, a captain with the Falmouth Fire Department, was dashing around his home off Davisville Road getting his two boys ready for school.
“Organized chaos,” he said, as he simultaneously concluded a phone conversation, arranged backpacks and called 6-year-old William in from the swing set.
Samuel J. Thrasher, 10, left off playing LEGO with his friend and neighbor, Ethan R. Pratt, 10, and the two older boys came downstairs. At 8:30 AM the four of them set off for school—on bicycles.
Ethan and Samuel rode their own bikes, while William rode a “tag along” attached to his father’s bicycle. The Thrashers’ home is only .6 miles from East Falmouth Elementary School, so, with some time to kill, Mr. Thrasher took the boys into the Fisherman’s Cove development for some extra exercise.
“They love going down the big hill,” Mr. Thrasher said as he directed Ethan, who was out in front, to turn left down Penny Royal Lane. William called out for his father to pass the older boys and take the lead.
Mr. Thrasher said he seldom drives his sons to school. Most days they bike, and on snowy or rainy days they walk to the bus stop. “The only time I get resistance is on the really cold days, but they’ve learned to dress for the weather,” Mr. Thrasher said. “I’m old school ... cold air in the lungs wakes them up, gets their heads clear for school.”
This Monday, the boys arrived at school just before 9 AM, locked up their bikes (there were two others on the rack), and got out their HUB cards, which are special cards they wave in front of a small electronic box near the main office. The HUB system tracks how frequently students bike to school and graphs various metrics, including calories burned, online. When students bike to school 10 times, 4th grade East Falmouth teacher and biking enthusiast Jay M. Hauptmann gives them a prize.
Mr. Hauptmann said the HUB card reader has been a hit. “Kids love the HUB because they can track themselves online,” he said. This is the school’s second full year using the HUB system. It cost $1,500, and was bought with PTO funds and a donation from Corner Cycle. (HUB is a Vancouver based nonprofit whose mission is “to make cycling an attractive choice for everyone.”)
Like the Thrashers, Mr. Hauptmann and his son, Evan J. Hauptmann, bike to school most mornings. When he first start teaching in Falmouth 14 years ago, Mr. Hauptmann said he was surprised how few children rode to school. Five years ago he organized the first “bike-to-school day” in the Falmouth school district, part of his mission to get more students pedaling to class.
Father and son took a break from after-school chess club last Wednesday to talk about riding to school.
“You have fun, it’s better than a noisy bus,” 8-year-old Evan said.
Mr. Hauptmann said he wants students to bike to school “mainly for health reasons ... Kids that are more active are more calm and can learn better.” And he personally enjoys the bonding time a long bike ride affords: “The conversations I get to have with Evan on our two-mile bike ride—you know, he’ll tell me who he played with at recess or who he sat with at lunch—we would never have those conversations if we were in the car probably,” Mr. Hauptmann said.
In May, National Bike Month, Mr. Hauptmann organized several bike events at East Falmouth Elementary: a bike clinic, a bike parade around the track, and the bike-to-school day itself, where police stopped traffic last Friday and 110 students rode the two miles from Menauhant Beach up Davisville Road to the school.
Although the goal is to get students biking to school regularly, Mr. Hauptmann acknowledged that not all children can do that, either because they live along a route that is not safe, or their parents’ schedules do not allow for it. “Not everyone can bike,” he said. “But we’re trying to tap the ones that can.” One example would be the students who live a quarter-mile from the school but ride the bus rather than biking or walking. (Walkers can also get a HUB card.)
Mr. Hauptmann and Robert M. Porto, a teacher at the Lawrence School, just received a grant from the Woods Hole Science and Technology Education Partnership (WHSTEP) to install a HUB system at the junior high school next year. Lawrence held its first bike-to-school day this May. Mr. Porto said around 50 students commuted via the bike path, with 15 departing from the Trunk River parking lot in Woods Hole, and 35 from the West Falmouth Market.