National Bike to School Day encourages more exercise for students

Published 6:08 am Thursday, May 4, 2023

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Albert Lea Mayor Rich Murray and school administration were on hand while the Albert Lea Tiger led students on an impromptu griddy dance Wednesday morning at Hawthorne Elementary School as part of the district’s National Bike to School Day event.

The event was a partnership between the district and the city’s Blue Zones Project and was celebrated at every elementary school as well as Southwest Middle School.

Murray was on hand to greet students, and many asked for his autograph.

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“The kids are out riding a bike or walking or running to school today,” Murray said, adding that he wanted to encourage students to walk or bike to the classroom.

This was the first time Murray had done something like this, and said he enjoyed participating in activities with school children.

He was also surprised by the high turnout before 8 a.m.

“They knew that they wanted to be here a little early today since they’re biking and walking, so it’s encouraging to see that there’s a lot of children that live fairly close to the school here,” he said. “We would expect that they’d come, and especially on such a beautiful day.”

The event also tied into the city’s Blue Zones idea of being active, something he said needed to start when children were young. For him, Blue Zones meant living a healthy, active life with exercise.

According to, the Blue Zone Project connected “local stakeholders and international well-being experts to introduce evidence-based programs and changes to environment, policy and social networks.”

Murray’s hope for the event was for students to have fun outside and to remember the importance of being active and being around friends.

“Put the devices down and get outside and get active,” he said.

“This gets our students out and moving and reinforces our commitment to the healthy lifestyle that we model as adults and for students to be out and being active,” said Ron Wagner, superintendent of Albert Lea Area Schools, noting that student participation exceeded his expectations.

According to John Mahal, principal at Hawthorne Elementary School, while the school tried to do something on an annual basis, this was the first time the school made it a large effort.

“As a district we talked through just wanting to get back to highlighting biking to school rather than relying on regular transportation,” he said. “It was more of a district effort to really highlight things.”

Mahal projected that over half of the school’s students walked or rode a bike to school Wednesday. By comparison, around 25 to 30% walked or biked on a regular day, and he said now that the weather was improving, he was seeing more walkers or bikers.

A safe biking route is being developed at the high school following new sidewalk installation.

Murray, who lived on a dairy farm growing up, rode to school after doing chores in the morning. On the other hand, Wagner, who grew up in rural Indiana, rode his bike to school.

“My bike ride was about 2 1/2 miles,” he said. “It’s a little different than a community school.”

Mahal also rode or walked the roughly mile-long distance to school until he got to high school.

“I’m definitely very familiar with doing things like this,” he said.