If the premise of Robert Fulghum’s book, “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten,” is true, then Nesbit Elementary teacher Marey Richins just added a new chapter. The title? “Ride your bike everyday, everywhere.”
Richins, who has taught kindergarten at since 1997, was honored this month as the 2011 San Mateo County Bike Commuter of the Year (BCOY) by the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition (BABC).
She was nominated by her peers in the , in recognition of her pledge to “ride my bike everyday to and from work for the entire school year,” she said.
So far she’s kept to that pledge with the exception of one rainy, windy winter morning when she felt it wasn’t safe, so instead she walked to her Belmont classroom from her home in San Carlos.
According to the BABC website, the winners of the Bike Commuter of the Year award are recognized for their dedication to riding their bike for everyday transportation.
For Richins, riding her bike to and from school everyday has become a symbol of the positive messages set forth to her students.
In addition to teaching kindergarten basics—like share, flush, and don’t hit people—Richins has taught her students the health, environmental and financial benefits of choosing a bike over a car as a primary form of transportation.
Several of her students have picked up on the lesson and they too have been biking to school, or riding scooters.
“One day the superintendent, assistant superintendant, and principal came into my classroom and asked, 'What’s this?'" Richins said, pointing to her bright yellow ppecialized bike parked inside the classroom’s mini wooden kitchen. “'That’s my parking space,'” Richins answered. “I then told them about my pledge to ride everyday to and from school.”
There’s no mistaking you’re in a kindergarten classroom in Nesbit’s Room 1. A burst of springtime art projects are strung from above clusters of tiny desks and chairs, and all around the colorful classroom are the features of a caring, child-centered environment.
From the shrunken kitchen and reading circle to the cage containing the classroom pet, Rat Girl (an incredibly friendly rat) and the silkworm box chock full of caterpillars spinning silk threads, everything in Marey Richins classroom beckons visitors back to the curious days of kindergarten.
But it’s the well-worn bike in its “parking space” that has become Richins’ most effective teaching tool this year, a lesson she herself learned from a teacher.
“I went to high school in Los Angeles, and every year a teacher would lead a ride from Monterey back home to school in L.A. We would stay in campsites along the way. It was a great experience,” she said.
As the mother of three grown children, Richins has had other inspirations. When her oldest daughter was a sophomore in high school, she was diagnosed with cancer. While undergoing cancer treatments, her daughter was too weak to walk to school, so Richins and her husband allowed her to drive the family’s only car. That prompted Richins to get on her bike for the commute to Nesbit.
In 2005, when her daughter successfully ended treatment, Richins and her younger daughter trained for a bike ride around Lake Tahoe with Team in Training (the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society).
Richins is currently training for a mini-triathlon, and will climb Mt. Whitney with her daughters this summer.
On the back of Richins’ bike are two rectangular metal baskets, adding anywhere from 5-20 pounds to the bike.
“I carry my lunch, foul weather gear, things I need for class, and since our class recycles, I stop along the way [if it’s safe] to pick up recyclables. And on weekends, Rat Girl goes in a little bag and into the basket for the ride home.”
Richins calculates she’s pedaled 600 miles total this school year, both biking to school and fun rides on weekends, and she’s saved 39 gallons of gas by not driving a car.
Thursday is , and Richins is encouraging all students to hop on their bikes or scooters to get to school.
“And if they ride to the train station and sign in at the Caltrain Energizer Station, they’ll get a goody bag,” she said. Yet another reason to ride your bike to school.