BELPRE - Every Friday, Belpre Elementary School teacher Robin Walker parks at the high school and travels the remaining two miles to work on two wheels instead of four.
Although she's an avid cyclist, Walker doesn't do the weekly ride for herself, but for nearly two dozen first- through sixth-graders who make the journey with her as part of the school's Bicycle Club.
"We ride just like the mailman - rain, snow, sleet and hail," she said.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Belpre Elementary students leave school on their bicycles Friday afternoon. Members of the school’s Bicycle Club ride to and from school every Friday with teacher Robin Walker.
The activity is a way to keep children active and teach them about safe bicycling. It's drawn so much interest, a second bike rack had to be brought over from the high school to accommodate all the riders, Principal Bernie Boice said.
"I think you can get a lot of exercise, and you can have fun, and you can get out a lot of energy before you go to school," said fourth-grader Samantha Gainer, one of the regular participants.
She and other students say they prefer their bikes to a school bus.
"You don't have to hear kids screaming and yelling," added fellow fourth-grader Khyleigh Scott.
The riders meet near the high school and form a line about half a school bus long, Walker estimated, with a parent volunteer bringing up the rear. They receive waves from residents and motorists always show patience, she said.
"It's wonderful for the kids," Walker said. "It's fun. They enjoy it. It makes them feel good."
The students acknowledge some other benefits as well.
"It wakes us up," said fourth-grader Emma Hodgson. "It hurts your legs a little bit. ... It's really far, so it gets us exercise."
Fifth-grader Dawson Newell said riding a bike pollutes less than traveling in an automobile.
"It doesn't make the Earth worse," he said.
Although the weekly rides began with this school year, Walker started a Bicycle/Walking Club for students last year.
"I (lived) two miles from the elementary school," she said. "And I noticed that some kids did ride their bikes to school, very few, and they were all over the place and not wearing helmets."
The initial group met every two weeks, walking the school track and talking about bicycle safety. Thanks to grant funding obtained with the help of Court Witschey, with the Washington County Health Department, Walker was able to get every child in the club a bike helmet. They wrapped up the 2010-11 school year with a Rails to Trails ride for students and their family members that drew dozens.
Although she now lives in the southern part of Wood County, W.Va., Walker said it's her pleasure to lead the students on a ride to school once a week.
"I can't not do it," she said.