Nearly 200 Carpenters Middle School students are reading and riding during 20 minutes of their language arts classes.

While all of the schools’ students read a book they select for 20 minutes a day during language arts, the 196 students in the new Pedal Power program ride exercise bikes at the same time.

The goal is to improve their reading, and the exercise is just an added benefit. In the first week, even the students noticed a difference and were enthusiastic about the pedaling time.

“They beg me to come ride the bikes,” said eighth-grade language arts teacher Jordan Ridenour.

Improved focus

“I used to not focus while I was reading,” said Robert Barron, an eighth-grader who was reading “Pop” by Gordon Korman during Friday’s Pedal Power program.

Riding the bike helps, Barron said. “I think of reading instead of other things,” like playing with a pencil.

“I’ve been reading more,” said classmate Lexxus Woods, who read “Autumn Falls” by Bella Thorne while she was on the exercise bike.

Students are even talking about their Pedal Power accomplishments in the hallway. Ridenour said he has heard comments such as “I read 20 pages and biked two miles!”

Ridenour was enthusiastic about the program as soon as he heard about it. Reading while running on a treadmill is one of his habits. “That’s sometimes where I get my best reading done,” he said.

He recognized that having a physical outlet instead of trying to just sit still would help middle school students. “Sometimes these kids get a little fidgety,” Ridenour said.

Tracking results

Literacy leader Terri Bradshaw was inspired to launch Pedal Power by people she saw reading while exercising at the gym and other school “read and ride” programs that have reported better reading test scores for students who bike while reading.

At one elementary school, she said, students who read while biking scored in the 83th percentile on a reading test while classmates who didn’t use the bikes scored in the 60th percentile. “I hope to see similar results,” Bradshaw said.

CMS students in the Pedal Power program took the STAR Reading test the day before they started using the bikes, and they will take the test again at the end of the school year.

Students’ reading more also would help Carpenters Middle reach its goal for the Reading Rocks program of completing 10,000 books this school year.

“Reading is woven into our (school) culture,” said Principal Jon Young, noting that administrators and teachers also will read beside students during designated reading times during the school week.

Health grant funding

CMS purchased 14 exercise bikes with a $2,000 Coordinated School Health mini-grant and some additional funding from Volunteer Pharmacy. Bradshaw hoped to start with 10 bikes, but the funding and a deal she found on Amazon allowed her to purchase more.

Custodian Tony Carnes assembled the exercise bikes with some help from Bradshaw’s husband. The exercise bikes are located in a room that formerly housed outdated computers.

Teachers also are reaping the benefits, riding while reading or grading papers during planning periods when students aren’t using the bikes.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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