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A balanced education

GEARHART — Unicycling probably does not come to mind when you think about physical education at elementary school. An exception is in the Seaside School District.

Each fifth-grade physical education class at Gearhart Elementary School and Seaside Heights Elementary School completed a five-week unit focused on the unicycle this term.

PE teacher Brian Sigler, who has been with the school district about 27 years, pitched the idea last summer to Seaside Heights Elementary School Principal Sande Brown, who was supportive. The school got 10 unicycles and Sigler acquired an additional five.

With the cycles in hand, Sigler introduced the activity first to fifth-graders at Seaside Heights Elementary before moving on to Gearhart Elementary. Sigler eventually wants all the elementary-aged students to get unicycle experience in their PE classes — although that would require more unicycles. However, “this has been a really nice start,” he said, adding he wished he introduced the activity earlier.

“We’ve got some kids that have gotten really excited about unicycles,” he said.

Sigler rode a unicycle as a hobby for a couple years starting in fourth grade. When he started teaching the activity at Seaside Heights, he had not ridden in 40 years, but he said his background still made it easy to give demonstrations and instruct the students in the basics.

“It is a lifetime skill — once you learn, you really do not forget,” he said.

The unit at Gearhart Elementary School ended earlier this month. However, Sigler received so much positive feedback from students he felt compelled to continue their opportunity to learn and practice. So, he started a unicycling club for all fifth-graders in the district. The club is meeting Tuesdays at Seaside Heights Elementary through the end of the school year, and will return after summer break.

In his classes, Sigler mostly focused on the basics of traditional cycling — how to mount a unicycle, balance and turn left and right. He had the students use the wall to start and then partner with others until they were comfortable riding on their own.

Within the club, Sigler feels he might be able to introduce additional, performance-type skills. He hopes the students can participate in a parade for Fourth of July or join students from another club in Lake Oswego to partake in the parade at the Portland Rose Festival.

Seeing students’ perseverance transform into the heightened self-esteem that accompanies learning a new skill is especially rewarding to Sigler.

When he began the course, a couple students admitted they did not know how to ride bicycles. They were particularly apprehensive about trying out unicycles, but with time, they picked up the skill and the impact of their accomplishment was evident.

They were very satisfied when they realized, despite their initial apprehension, “they can accomplish so much more than even they believed,” Sigler said.

“All of the kids sort of benefited so much from a confidence standpoint and knowing they’re able to do a lot more than maybe they thought they could,” Sigler said. “I’ve seen kids that have come so far.”

He already has several younger students interested.

“They’re always asking, ‘When do we get to start?’” he said.

Some of the student are trying to get their own unicycles, requesting them for holidays and birthdays.

In addition to providing a confidence boost and new passion, the activity also widens the world of fitness for students. Most enjoy it so much, they don’t even realize it is a workout alternative.

“They’re just having fun,” Sigler said. “For me, it’s been a really exciting unit.”

Instructor Brian Sigler, right, and student Cameron Schulte, left, help Brody Hillman keep his balance while learning how to ride a unicycle at Gearhart Elementary School in Gearhart. (Joshua Bessex/The Daily Astorian via AP)
Anthony Garcia, left, helps Tyler Wright keep his balance as he unicycles across the gym at Gearhart Elementary School in Gearhart on April 7. Each fifth-grade physical education class at Gearhart Elementary School and Seaside Heights Elementary School completed a five-week unit focused on the unicycle this term. PE teacher Brian Sigler, who has been with the school district about 27 years, pitched the idea last summer to Seaside Heights Elementary School Principal Sande Brown, who was supportive. The school got 10 unicycles and Sigler acquired an additional five. (Joshua Bessex/The Daily Astorian via AP)