Interview with Dian Christensen, Sunnyside PE Teacher

Dian Christensen is the PE teacher at Sunnyside Environmental School. She has been teaching there since 2004 and has been assisting the Bicycle Transportation Alliance to teach bicycle safety since that time.

Sunnyside is one of the few Kindergarten through 8th (K-8) grade schools that receives bicycle safety education. The fifth graders participate in bicycle safety and Dian clears her schedule for a week so she is available to work with the BTA instructor during all the classes. This means in most of the bicycle safety classes there is both a classroom teacher and a PE teacher – Dian! This increases learning opportunities for students by having more adults available to run the program. Sunnyside also chooses to have the two hour program and this allows for more concentrated instructional time and a two hour community ride.


BTA: How long have you been teaching bike safety with the BTA?
Dian: Sunnyside Environmental School has had bike safety at the 5th grade level for 9 years now and I have been in class, with a BTA ambassador, for all of them.

How long have you been bike commuting to work?
My car died about 7 years ago and I had a decision to make with regard to the money I had at the time. I rode an old Schwinn bike for a while as I contemplated my decision. I just felt like biking was going be ok for the time and then suddenly it was 5 years and two new bikes later and I was hooked.

When did you become a more serious riders and what inspired you?
Because I was a daily commuter and only used a car if a friend loaned it to me or gave me a lift I absorbed the bike culture and community here in Portland through experience.

The more you ride the greater number of bike experiences you have and the greater number of people you gather around you who ride. My chance to be a part of the BTA bike class also led to connections with the bike community. An example of this is when I happened to be standing on the playground back in 2005 when a movie about Portland transportation and biking was being filmed. By virtue of being in a certain place at a certain time with bike awareness and being inquisitive, I ended up in a short film and that gave me and Sunnyside some bike notoriety. People still recognize me from it and stop me on the streets. Here is the film.

How long have you been riding a bike?
I’ve been riding a bike since childhood. I biked for recreation in Indiana and in college when it was my only transportation.

When did you become a more serious riders and what inspired you?
I ride now because I love to ride! I ride now because it saves me money on gas (I finally bought a small geo from a parent of a Sunnyside student last April, sure makes getting the groceries easier!). I ride because there is no greater fun than whizzing past motorists stopped in a long line of traffic with breeze in my hair, and independence in my hands. Riding here in Portland has taught me it is pure pleasure just to ride. Summertime I call a friend and we will just get on our bikes and go. We head out to the Columbia or ride the bridges of downtown, sometimes we do a pub crawl ride, sometimes we just explore a neighborhood I haven’t seen.

What is your favorite part of teaching bike safety?
My favorite part of teaching bike safety is seeing those kids riding in a long line, seeing them in charge of their own safety and making good decisions, seeing students learn to handle a bike and watching that manifest itself into greater confidence in themselves, hearing people in the neighborhood be grateful for the efforts, seeing the smiles that the week brings, seeing students go from the difficulty of restlessly sitting in those seats on the first day to the exhilaration of that Friday Community ride, feeling the support of the school community (the teachers and administration and parents, all these people supporting the program), seeing how it is now a tradition at our school and every kid begins looking forward to 5th grade because they know that it is the year they get to learn bike safety, feeling like I do make a difference in their lives.

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