- Will Rogers Middle School
Power Bike program at Will Rogers
It’s an unusual sight to see: Dozens of students dressed in matching uniforms riding red bikes along the streets of Fair Oaks.
As part of the Power Bike program at Will Rogers Middle School, students learn about bike safety and the health benefits of cycling, and then venture out into the community.
“In a one-period time, our students will get on their bikes, go and do creek studies,” said program director Naomi Harper, a science teacher at the school.
They’ve visited spots like Del Campo Creek and the Schweitzer Grove Nature Area, even taking a field trip to the American River Parkway.
“I love riding bikes. I enjoy it because I love the breeze in your face as you're riding. It just makes you feel good,” said seventh-grade student Shane Rodriguez. “It can get you healthy and get your muscles going, and it makes your heart rate go up.”
But the program doesn’t stop with riding. Will Rogers is home to a bike shop where students learn to repair and maintain bikes. Handlebars, brakes, pedals and valves are all part of a day’s work.
“You get to learn what's wrong with it and how to fix a certain item,” said Lizzie Romanets, also a seventh-grader. At one point when her personal bike broke down at home, she got rid of it. Now, she’d be able to repair it in a heartbeat.
Volunteer Ken MacPherson, a retired industrial arts teacher, spends two days a week with students, teaching them the basics of bike repair.
“I enjoy working on bikes. I do it for fun, and it just seemed like a real good fit,” he said.
The bike shop started out small in 2011, with a $500 Walk to School grant from the City of Citrus Heights that allowed the school to purchase a single stand and mobile kit.
Since then, the program has expanded significantly. They’ve taken over a portable classroom, and MacPherson helped students build bike racks that line the ceilings and walls. They have four student workstations equipped with stands and all manner of wrenches and ratchets.
The program’s growth has largely been thanks to support from community organizations. They’ve received donations and grants, from organizations like AT&T Pioneers and UCLA. The Power Bike program has also partnered with both the Sacramento County Office of Education and UC Davis Trauma Center to strengthen the bike safety components of the program. The school is now a Helmet Safety Center through UC Davis.
A turning point for the program came when the bike company Specialized funded 30 matching red bikes for the school in exchange for participating in a study exploring the benefits of cycling. Now, the students all have bikes to ride, along with helmets and heart rate monitors. Between those bikes and others brought in by staff, students and community members, there are always bikes in need of repair.
“It's a full service program,” Harper said. “If a student has a problem with a bike, they can come in and bring it in. If they want to learn how to repair a bike, our program is sustainable because we always have access to bikes that students can repair. They're either repairing their own or repairing … the bikes and then giving back to the community.”
Indeed, as much as staff and students have benefitted from community support, they are determined to give back. They take in and repair lost, stolen or abandoned bikes from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and City of Citrus Heights Police Department. Then, the school returns the like-new bikes to law enforcement agencies who distribute them to needy children during the holidays.
It’s a rewarding feeling for students like Christopher Real-Woods.
“These kids don't have a lot of stuff that we have, so we want to give bikes to kids who really need bikes,” he said.
Students in the Power Bike program also participate in community events. In the wee hours of the morning of Oct. 5, a handful of them gathered on a street corner with the Fair Oaks Chamber of Commerce’s honorary mayor and representatives from the district’s Prevention Services and Safe Routes departments to celebrate Walk and Bike to School Day.
The school has also worked to ensure that no students are excluded from the Power Bike program, purchasing and assembling a surrey for use by special needs students. The large, red vehicle was funded by a grant from the Healthy Schools program and Kaiser Permanente, and has room for six people to pedal.
“It feels like I’m riding fast. Everybody has to be pedaling in order for it to go smooth,” said Delaney Carpenter, a visually impaired student who rode the surrey from Will Rogers to Del Campo High School for her graduation last year. “Visually impaired people can participate actively just like the sighted people.”
The program has been both empowering and educational for all students at the school.
“They see it as empowering them to take care of an aspect of their own life, their wheels,” MacPherson said.
“You have to know what pieces to put together. What's really fun about getting your hands dirty is you can do hands-on real-life science about bikes, technical stuff, how to fix them,” Real-Woods said.
Instructors have worked to link bike repair lessons to curriculum. They’ve had math lessons on circumference and diameter using wheels, and even worked in English and composition lessons by requiring students to write technical manuals about repair processes.
As they develop and hone their skills, students in the Power Bike program have a simple message:
“If you have a bike and you need to fix it, please come down to Will Rogers Middle School,” Rodriguez said.