Powering Up for Health and Physical Activity with Bikes at Will Rogers Middle School

“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 [other] bikes and then giving back to the community.” Naomi Harper, Program Director, Will Rogers Middle School

It’s an unusual sight to see: dozens of students dressed in matching uniforms riding red bikes along the streets of Fair Oaks, California. As part of the POWERBike program at Will Rogers Middle School in Fair Oaks, CA, students learn about bike safety and the health benefits of cycling, and then venture out into the community. The program does not stop with riding either. Will Rogers Middle School 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.

One seventh grade student said, “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. It can get you healthy and get your muscles going, and it makes your heart rate go up.”

The program started out small when the school received a $500 Walk to School grant in 2011 that allowed it to purchase a single bike stand and mobile kit. Over the past few years, the program has expanded significantly. They have taken over a portable classroom, and built bike racks that line the ceilings and walls. They have four student workstations equipped with stands and all manner of wrenches and ratchets. “You get to learn what’s wrong with it and how to x a certain item,” said another seventh- grade student. 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. At Will Rogers Middle School, where 66% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, the ability to repair a broken bicycle can make the crucial difference between being able to ride a bike or not having one at all.

Students ride every Friday during science class. “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. The program’s growth has been made possible by support from community organizations and grants, including organizations like AT&T Pioneers and UCLA. The POWERBike 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.

The program has been both empowering and educational for all students at the school. 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. The school has also worked to ensure that no students are excluded from the POWERBike program, purchasing and assembling a surrey for use by students with special needs. 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.

In addition to the biking program, Will Rogers Middle School has a very robust physical education program. The students completed a 5K in their physical education class, and their media program promotes physical fitness and wellness on morning announcements. Their Club Live is focused on pedestrian and bicycle safety, conducting surveys and working on a service learning project to include crosswalk painting, signage, and additional ways to improve safety. Staff and students want to do more than just improve and increase biking at their own school. They are determined to give back by taking in and repairing lost, stolen, or abandoned bikes from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and City of Citrus Heights Police Department. The school then returns the like-new bikes to law enforcement agencies who distribute them to children in need during the holidays.

As they develop and hone their skills, students in the POWERBike program have a simple message: “If you have a bike and you need to fix it, please come down to Will Rogers Middle School,” said a seventh-grade student.

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has more information and resources about creating a robust bicycle program at a school in your community. Visit saferoutespartnership.org to learn more.