Meet One of Somerville's Finest: Officer Maryanne Manfra
Just three years ago when Police Officer Maryanne Manfra showed up at one of the Somerville, Massachusetts elementary schools, the kids said, “Uh oh – how come the cops are here?” "Now," she says, “they hug me!”
What’s made the difference? The CYCLE Kids curriculum: through bicycling lessons, students forage meaningful relationships with adult mentors while learning valuable lessons in safety, nutrition, confidence, and friendship. To date, CYCLE Kids has reached some 3,000 children in the Boston and metro New York areas; a quarter of these children had never before been on a bike.
Sixteen-year Somerville Police veteran Manfra, who has been with her hometown department for most of her career, considers her involvement with CYCLE Kids “the best assignment I’ve had in 21 years as a cop.” Working with the school’s physical education teachers, Manfra helps explain to kids in each of her CYCLE Kids classes how the “ABCs” of biking work: air pressure, brakes, and chains. She explains why helmets are essential by showing them what happens to an egg when it falls without protection and then when it’s encased in Styrofoam.
But Manfra’s job as a mentor involves more than bike riding skills. One of her charges, who is autistic, has gone from being a disruptive student to one of Manfra’s best buddies. The reason, she believes, is that “cycling focuses kids.” Kids bring their bikes to Manfra as an excuse to talk about problems they’re having at home or to ask for help with schoolwork. One boy regularly asks to go bike riding with Manfra. “He has to work on his reading assignments before he can ride bikes with me,” Manfra says, and adds with pride: “he is now getting Bs and even some As in class.”
In addition to bike skills, the CYCLE Kids program includes a lot of discussion about what constitutes healthy food. Manfra sees the lessons about bike riding and nutrition as going hand-in-hand.
“These are not kids whose parents shop at Whole Foods or farmers’ markets,” says Manfra. “For some of them, junk food is all they’ve ever known. We try to let them know about some healthier choices – for instance, things like dried mangoes. Then maybe they’ll take some of those ideas home.”
"All in all," says Manfra, “CYCLE Kids is just a great program.”