Smiling from ear-to-ear, a group of special needs students in San Diego graduated from a program Friday that teaches them how to ride a bike – a skill that also comes with a whole lot of newfound confidence.
Each year, the nonprofit organization Crimson Treatment and Research Center hosts the 5-day-long “I Can Bike” camp at Alliant University in Scripps Ranch for about 40 kids. Many of the children have developmental differences and, through instructors and volunteers, the students learn to ride two-wheel bicycles independently.
The kids are given the opportunity to use a fleet of specialized bicycles, including bikes that use rollers on the backs to teach balance. Organizers estimate the program helps 80 percent of enrolled kids ride without any assistance by the end of the five days.
The result is a graduating class of students filled with self-esteem and confidence, ready to roll on their bikes.
“It’s exciting because it’s a milestone that you want every child to have,” said mother Lindsay Siani, whose son, Cooper, graduated from the program Friday.
Her husband, Jason Siani, said the program has helped Cooper focus on the goal at hand.
“It gives them self-confidence,” he added.
For the proud parents, watching Cooper excel on two wheels is a dream come true.
“Especially kids with autism, it’s harder for them to do typical things,” Lindsay said. “And when you see them doing the typical behavior, it warms your heart because it’s one more thing that he can fit in with his friends with. And it’s something we’re very excited about.”
Both of the Sianis’ sons – Cooper and older brother Ethan – are graduates of I Can Bike. Now, the Sianis said they will be riding their bikes together, as a family, all the time.
The Sianis were among dozens of parents who beamed as their children walked across the floor of the gymnasium during the graduation ceremony.
Each grad was awarded a certificate and a medal, each met with roaring claps and smiles from the crowd.
“All the parents here, there’s just so much joy in their faces to watch their children participate,” said Dana Greene, whose son, Spencer, also completed the program. “It was absolutely incredible to have this – now they can ride with their parents at the park. It’s a huge step for them.”
Spencer, sporting a red and black helmet, told NBC 7 he learned to ride a bike this week that matched his helmet and his red backpack.
“What’s cool about my bike is that it’s also red and it has a cool sign on it that says ‘Bike 20,’ said Spencer. “It’s not a race bike; [the sign] is for decoration. When I ride, I feel like it’s in a race.”
Spencer said his experience at the bike-riding camp was great. By the second day, he was riding his red bike on his own.
“I went fast, all around; people were impressed,” he said, grinning. “I was good at the turns. There was one time that I fell down. When I fell down, I got up without crying and everybody was clapping.”
Spencer said he learned that when you fall, you have to get up and try again.
The boy said the first time he rode on his own was an “awesome” feeling. He’s looking forward to using his skills outside of camp.
“Maybe I’ll practice with my dad and go to the park and do my bike on some trails,” he added.
Greene said watching her son ride a bike is a memory she won’t soon forget.
“It’s a huge milestone for them; first the sitting up, then the crawling, then the walking; a couple years down the road, now the bicycling,” she said. “[I Can Bike] builds self-esteem, it builds confidence and that’s what [all parents] want for their kids.”