Jesse Reusch

Jesse Reusch

Program gets kids geared up for school

A bike shop provides C.H.A.N.C.E. Alternate students with one more reason to come to school.

Having just one more reason to come to school can make the difference between a student who graduates, and one who doesn’t.

That’s the philosophy underpinning a program at C.H.A.N.C.E Alternate school that takes in old bikes, and teaches students to fix and ride them.

The six-week, extra-curricular option is nearing 10 years, and combines mechanical education with fitness. Other similar programs at the school include cooking, weight-training, and art.

About 15 students have passed through bike shop this year, representing nearly 40 per cent of the school’s student body.

With access to several dozen bikes, students learn to pump and patch tires, adjust gears, fit new brake cables, replace brake pads, repair spokes, and do other basic maintenance.

“We teach them how to take care of their own equipment,” said program leader and educational assistant Dane, who asked that only his first name be used.

Sometimes on a nice day, bike shop students will spend their hour cycling around the Prest Road area.

There’s a sense of accomplishment from working with their hands, of a job well done, according to Dane. And students gain mechanical confidence through fixing a bike, which may help them do other things, such as fix a faucet leak.

“A lot of our young people, they don’t have an opportunity at all. This gives them an opportunity that they feel they can relate to,” said Dane.

It doesn’t matter what a student’s ability is. Some ride bikes, others scooters. Some come to repair parts and work with their hands, others for the riding. Some are there just to hang out in a safe place.

What’s important is that they choose to come to school that day.

“If it’s biking, or cooking, or whatever, that might be the one hook that keeps them here, rather than not being in school at all,” said Dane.

Students are at C.H.A.N.C.E for a variety of reasons, but a common one is that they have trouble keeping up their attendance. For some students, the bike shop might be that one thing that gets them out of bed in the morning.

“It gives you something to look forward to when you go to school,” said 14-year-old Jesse Reusch, who has become especially good at riding one of the shop’s several unicycles.

The flexible program occasionally supplies bikes to students across the district, whenever there’s someone who struggles getting to school. People also drop off bikes for a tune-up.

Thirteen-year-old Richard Trudel is fixing up a bike to donate to his sister, after hers was stolen recently. He joined the program because it’s fun, he said, and because there are many different activities that participants can do.

“I’ll be at home, and I’m like a couch potato. Here I’m like a ball of energy,” he said. He’s hoping Dane starts a project to make a go-kart out of scrap bike parts.

In the last few  years, the shop fixed up and sent seven bikes over to Africa. A more complicated task than it seems, explained Dane, because the bikes need to be bomb-proof: single speed, with brakes that engage when pedaling backwards.

“Our goal is to have everybody in a classroom get up and pedal to a field trip,” said Dane.

With about 35 bikes in the room, and a container full of bike parts, the goal is near.

The shop is careful about which donated bikes to accept. Many bikes that have sat in a garage or basement may be rusted or damaged beyond repair, leaving the school district to cover the disposal fee.