Evaluating CYCLE kids: a bicycling and nutrition health promotion curriculum delivered as a component of school based physical education
Montenegro, Stephanie Anne
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Childhood is a critical time point in determining adult health. Healthy habits that are formed during childhood can not only prevent medical conditions and illnesses in adulthood, but also allow a child to learn, grow, and become a healthy adult. The importance of healthy childhood habits has been discussed in U.S. Health Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2020 initiative and numerous scientific studies regarding the importance of promoting child health and physical activity at an early age to ensure that these habits continue into adulthood. The purpose of this retrospective, qualitative study is to analyze the effectiveness of CYCLE Kids, a school-based bicycling and nutrition curriculum, in promoting physical activity and healthy behaviors in children. The CYCLE Kids program is implemented as eight physical education classes for students in the fourth and fifth grade. It was evaluated using self-reported pre- and post- curriculum assessments to determine if students showed measurable behavioral changes or knowledge gains. The assessments also contained open-ended questions to further understand the students' point of view on what they were learning and what they enjoyed most. For the evaluation, the assessment questions were divided into bicycle skills and safety, bicycling frequency and physical activity, and nutrition and physical fitness. The study sample included 1,575 children ages 8-12 years (mean 10.2 years) from public schools in Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts. The demographics of the students were 30% Caucasian, 16% Latino, 19% African American, 10% Asian, and 2% American Indian or Alaskan Native. Teachers and police officers involved in the implementation of the CYCLE Kids program were also surveyed to ascertain perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum, and to discern the perceived benefits of participating in the program. A total of 15 teachers responded to the survey (60%) from partner schools in eight states across the United States where the CYCLE Kids curriculum is being taught. Results from the student assessments indicate that students showed the most knowledge gain in bicycle and safety skills, with a 39% increase in the proportion of students who reported knowing how to use hand signals when riding a bicycle by program completion. This trend remained prominent in students' post-assessment open-ended responses where bicycle skills and safety made up more than three-quarters (78%) of the responses to the two most important things learned in the program. Bicycling frequency and physical activity showed moderate increases; an increase by 4% (from 76% at baseline to 80% after the unit) in the proportion of students who own a bicycle at home, an increase by 7% (from 39% to 46%) in the proportion of student who rode their bikes weekly, and an increase by 10% increase (from 68% to 78%) in the proportion of students who were exercising and playing sports more often. In the nutrition and physical fitness category, children showed only minor improvement with the greatest gains in this category for knowing how to take their heart rate and wanting to learn more about healthy eating. Teachers perceived that the CYCLE Kids program increased a student's self-confidence, helped students overcome fears, and got students excited about riding a bicycle. Additionally, all but one teacher who participated in the survey reported perceived behavioral changes in their students. Teachers also noted several implementation obstacles to the curriculum delivery including not having enough classroom time to fully teach the lessons, the difficulty of doing textbook lessons in the gymnasium, and the logistics of moving the bicycles from storage to riding areas. Overall, the student and teacher feedback indicated that the CYCLE Kids program increases bicycle knowledge and safety skills in addition to increasing self-confidence of participants. Teaching children to safely and properly ride a bike develops a life skill that they can carry far into the future. However, it is unclear if participation in the CYCLE Kids program prompts students to be more physically active. A long-term study analyzing students' behaviors and physical activity levels several years after program participating in the program is warranted. Ongoing work will revise several of the CYCLE Kids curriculum components and address implementation logistics uncovered by this evaluation.