Cycling has become a popular fitness and recreation craze throughout the world. Now, a pilot curriculum developed by Central Michigan University, in partnership with The Specialized Foundation, is using cycling to manage the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and improve classroom performance in middle school students.
The results have already made an impact in 17 middle schools throughout the U.S., including schools in New York City, Los Angeles and a suburb of Philadelphia.
ADHD patients are often prescribed medication, including Ritalin, to keep symptoms at bay. The Riding for Focus curriculum, which is set to launch in final form this year, aims to reduce the medication necessary for participants as they engage and keep their mind centered on day-to-day activities.
"Cycling, unlike some sports and activities, engages your brain in so many ways. You have to think about your speed, movement and the environment around you all at once," said Ben Rollenhagen, a CMU faculty member, bike fit technician and one of the developers of the new curriculum.
A combination of finely tuned curriculum, donated equipment and connections to experts who can help maintain bicycles are what set this initiative apart from other attempts to introduce cycling programs to schools in the past.
The Riding for Focus grant recipients receive 30 bicycles and safety equipment from Specialized Bicycle Components, as well as the curriculum and educator training developed by CMU. Schools then keep the equipment indefinitely. Each school also is connected with a local bicycle retailer that builds, delivers and maintains the bicycle fleet. In exchange, school partners are asked to help The Specialized Foundation evaluate the effectiveness of the program in and out of the classroom.
The Specialized Foundation launched its first school cycling pilot after founder and CEO Mike Sinyard and scientists from RTSG Neuroscience Consultants confirmed what others in the cycling industry had suspected: cycling helps focus energy and relieve the symptoms of ADHD.
Success with an early pilot project led The Specialized Foundation to hire cycling and curriculum experts Rollenhagen and Ray Allen, chair of the physical education and sport department in The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions at CMU. Together, Allen and Rollenhagen developed a standard curriculum based on data from the first schools in the program and RTSG's research on the effects of cycling.
"The great thing about using cycling is that we can give students a tool they can use for a lifetime. Not only that, but families and communities can be part of the solution, together," said Ray Allen. "That is exciting."
The Specialized Foundation and CMU hope to make the new curriculum and equipment available to 10 to 20 schools in the coming year with an additional goal of reaching 4,000 students in the next three years.