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Varina High School's Bike Walk RVA Academy

After six after-school sessions and a big field trip ride on the Virginia Capital Trail, we are ready to share about the progress we’ve been making with Bike Walk RVA’s fifth Academy, a youth academy at Varina High School. A Maggie Walker High School Fellow who has been working with us since the summer, Max Frankel, assists with the program and has collected the following thoughts and observations!

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Student groups present their vision of biking and walking, what works and what needs to be fixed.

Bike Walk RVA launched its fifth Academy in the Richmond region this past September. Known as Blue Devils for Biking, the year-long program is BWRVA’s first academy focused on youth. Based out of Eastern Henrico’s Varina High School, Blue Devils for Biking was funded in part by a grant from the Robins Foundation, with the ambitious goal of teaching youth at VHS civic engagement, peppered with riding and maintenance skills, through a holistic view of the bike as a means of transportation, recreational activity, and tool for greater social change.

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The students know what they want.

Working with students in Varina allows us to not only inspire the next generation of advocates for biking and walking, but it fills an important gap in our regional advocacy base. Our most recently completed ambassador academy, an eight-week program for adult residents of Henrico County, featured little representation from Varina, the only district within Henrico to touch the Virginia Capital Trail. Varina High School itself is only a few hundred yards away from the Capital Trail, providing students with a valuable learning tool and safe place to practice riding that is within eyesight of campus. Varina also ranks relatively low in the state on a variety of socioeconomic metrics, making it an area that could benefit greatly from expanded infrastructure and community access to biking and walking.

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Our first field trip. 16 miles, an ice cream stop, lunch in Dorey Park, and an excellent day.

All students at VHS were welcome to join what is known on campus as “bike club,” and like our previous academies, Blue Devils for Biking is free for all participants. It also remains competitive, this time not as part of an application process but in students showing up, getting their hands dirty, and opening their minds. The program entices students to stick with the curriculum through the opportunity to earn a new bike by demonstrating understanding, enthusiasm, and a cooperative attitude.

While based out of Varina High School, the classroom used to teach the BD4B curriculum extends far past the realm of the VHS campus. From community forums and City Hall presentations to the rolling hills along the Capital Trail, this shifting classroom setting allows students to see grassroots advocacy in action and learn it for themselves.

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Beth Weisbrod, executive director for the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, tells the story of how the trail was built and how students can continue advocating for more.

While students will learn to identify different types of protected bike lanes and the importance of grants for infrastructure funding, one of the program’s overarching goals is to simply get them excited about bikes and expose them to as much cycling as possible. BD4B participants will see many different sides of bikes in society, including career opportunities, advocacy, the bike industry, government projects, and more.

With 20 students regularly coming to bike club each week, it’s not too optimistic to say that Eastern Henrico is about to have a new generation of passionate voices advocating for biking and walking in their communities.

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