Seven-year-old Brooklyn Williams wears her pink suede shoes while learning to ride a bike at the Walker-Jones Education campus on Sept. 23. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

WE ADMIT to having been a tad skeptical when we heard about the initiative of D.C. Public Schools to teach all second-graders to ride a bicycle. Isn’t that a parent’s job? Don’t schools have more important things to do? But the more we thought about children who may have no other opportunity to learn to ride, the more sense the idea made. Bike-riding is a physical skill that provides lifetime rewards, and the bike program is part of a larger effort to make learning more engaging and relevant — another sign of ongoing improvements in D.C. public education.

“I’m a little nervous” was the confession of one student at Walker-Jones Education Campus in a Post article about the bike-riding program that should strike a chord with anyone who still remembers the wobbly moments of that first bike ride without training wheels or an adult holding on. With help from the city’s transportation department and private donors, 1,000 bikes were acquired that will be used to teach the system’s 4,000 second-grade students how to ride as part of their physical education.

D.C. officials think their program may be a first of its scale, although it’s part of a growing trend to make gym classes more accessible and useful, with a focus on healthy fitness habits rather than competitive sports. Bike-riding is a useful, lifelong skill with spinoff benefits for the environment. Many D.C. students, particularly those from low-income families, weren’t learning something that many people simply take for granted.

The lessons, which also stress bike safety and map-reading skills, were developed by teachers as part of the system’s “Cornerstones” initiative to enrich learning by connecting it to the real world. Dozens of lesson plans have been developed for each grade. They include assigning third-grade students to learn about D.C. history by developing a travel guide or Web page, and having fifth-grade science students engineer a process to clean up an oil spill. The aim is to challenge students to make breakthroughs in their learning — a little like a second-grader overcoming her nervousness to experience the liberating sensation of pedaling forward on her own.