Diego Jorge was just 3 or 4 when he got his first bicycle, and his mother “talked a lot about how to ride safely,” he said.
“She said you always have to wear helmets and protective gear . . . so if you fell, you wouldn’t get hurt that much,” the 8-year-old from East Boston recalled.
In a time of heightened concern about bicycle safety, following the Aug. 7 death of a 38-year-old surgeon cycling in the Back Bay, Diego and other rising third-graders in the Boston Public Schools Summer Early Focus program are learning more than the rules of the road.
At eight sites across the city — including the East Boston Early Education Center where Diego is studying — students from K2 through third grade are exploring a new, locally developed curriculum of hands-on activities and writing exercises based on a set of central themes.
“Kids are constructing knowledge based on their own experience and their own observations,” said Jason Sachs, director of early childhood education for Boston Public Schools. “The adults . . . ask provocative questions, but the idea is that by actually doing something you learn much more.”
First-graders in the five-week enrichment program watched caterpillars become butterflies. Second-graders learned how to operate a restaurant. For third-graders, the focus was bikes.
Starting with bicycle history — from the wooden-wheeled “boneshaker” of the 1860s through today — they have discussed mountain bikes, dirt bikes, racers, and unicycles; the gears that make tires spin; and the importance of helmets, signaling, and maintenance.
“The ABC check is for air, brakes, and chain,” explained Angela Nunez, 9, another student at the East Boston site. “You’re supposed to check those before you have a ride.”
Angela does not have a bike at home, she said, but she has entered a raffle and hopes to win one.
Stephanie Musto, one of two teachers in the small class, said she was surprised to learn that five of the 10 students in her class had never ridden a bicycle.
“At the end of this hour-and-a-half, all five of those students were riding a bike alone,” Musto said. “It’s such a rare opportunity that we get to teach the students something like that, that’s so involved and physical, and something they’ll use the rest of their lives.”
The class included a visit from a Boston Bikes representative who talked about safe riding and taught the children how to use hand signals and properly adjust helmet straps. After the death of Anita Kurmann in the Back Bay accident, the teachers discussed the dangers of urban cycling.
“It was a very brief conversation, because we didn’t want to scare them,” Musto said. “The students all were very adamant that they don’t ride their bikes without an adult and that most of them don’t ride on the street.”
Instead, the children mostly ride in neighborhood parks, or sometimes in their backyards, according to a survey conducted as a learning exercise in the class.
On Friday, the final day of class, the students showed off their work, reading short stories they had written about cycling and displaying “Boston Bikeville:” a miniature village — made from recycled milk cartons and egg cartons — that they had designed as a haven for cyclists.
In planning the village, the students drafted, debated, and agreed upon a set of six rules, all focused on cycling safety.
Rule number one: “No cars allowed.”Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.