The front of one Brooklyn Center Secondary School math classroom looks pretty typical, with desks littered with algebra books. But in the back, bicycle stands hold up BMX bikes. Cupboards are filled with wheels and spare parts. A line of fixed-up bicycles stands against the wall.
Two days a week, members of the new bike club at the school, which just earned the Educator of the Year award from the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, use the room to fix brakes, replace rusty chains, and align frames.
Eighth-grader Dominic Raduenz explained this aspect of the program: “We get bikes that nobody wants, and then we fix them, and then we sell them for profit,” he said.
The bikes are sold on Craigslist for $5 to $40. “The intent isn’t to generate a profit,” said Will Finley, a programming coordinator at the school. The idea, he said, is to keep a program running that will encourage healthy living, engage students in the community and promote lifelong skills.
“We don’t want the next generation of kids not knowing how to turn a wrench,” he said.
One of the first priorities, though, is getting students on bikes of their own.
“My first rule is that if you come in and you fix a bike,” said Finley, “you can keep a bike.”
Raduenz, who said he joined the club because he wants to be an engineer and wanted hands-on experience, painted a Dyno bike green and white and fixed it up for himself. Another member, eighth-grader Sammy Feahn, is working on a blue Mongoose BMX to bring home.
A student who fixes up a bike to keep also gets a new helmet and bike lock, said Michelle Auld, the school’s community navigator.
Staff members hope that all this will encourage more kids to bike to school. Not only does that reduce emissions and promote healthy living, Auld said, but research shows that physical activity before class “improves academic scores in a big way.”
The bikes are donated from various sources such as community members or local bike organizations. Finley said he has even asked drivers of a scrap metal truck for a bike they were about to toss in the back.
“We’ve been pretty creative where we get bikes from,” he said.
The project began when the school applied for a grant for the Safe Routes to Schools program.
Finley said staff started discussing how many students actually had working bicycles. Some had bikes that weren’t in great condition. Others “don’t even own bikes or have access to bikes,” said Cathy Rude, a community health specialist with Hennepin County who works with the Minnesota Statewide Health Improvement Program, which awarded the grant.
The school used the grant to buy bike stands and tool kits, and last June, it worked with organizations like Cycles for Change in St. Paul and Venture North in Minneapolis to train students and staff to fix bikes.
The after-school bike club began and moved into its current location last fall. In April, the club started posting bikes on Craigslist, and it has sold 18 so far. The club is also continuing into the summer.
Dorian Grilley, executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, said the teaching of lifelong skills is one of the reasons the organization chose the school for the award. “A lot of different things will come out of a program like that,” Grilley said. “You can participate in community events or eventually get a job in a bike shop with [those] kinds of skills.”
Grilley said a couple of schools in the Minneapolis system have recently started bike maintenance programs, but they liked “the entrepreneurial spirit” of this endeavor.
Auld said they average four to six students per session, and students who attend regularly get a small commission from the sales, which eighth-grader Wessley Edlund said they often use go see movies as a group.
“Obviously, cash is huge for them,” said Auld. “Money talks, even for middle schoolers.”
However, she said, most profits go into buying parts. “At lot of it is to keep the program sustainable,” she said, “without needing to continually rely on grant money.”
The program also involves discussing biking with the larger student body. Students serve as bike advocates who promote biking to school, and the school is bringing in “bike fleets,” trailers full of bikes, for trail rides and safety talks.
A long-term goal for the program, said Auld, is to have the program eventually be part of the in-school curriculum.
Finley said a short-term goal is to work with the local police department to get bikes that don’t sell at police auctions donated to the program.
Raduenz said his goal is simply to sell more bikes so they can keep the program going, and Feahn’s is to finish his Mongoose to take it home.
Edlund’s goal? “To see more movies,” he said.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.