How two wheels are changing Tulsa kids
We all have seen those ubiquitous inspirational quotes on social media or waiting area walls. It usually has a tree or an ocean setting, maybe even a kitten in the background. It has some quote about overcoming or patience or patiently overcoming——any one of a thousand nebulous ideas. It sits there. It hopes to engage someone. Someone may read it. Ponder it. Then ultimately move on with their life.
It is a clever sentence in a clean font on a nice background.
Motivated and passionate people change the world, not signs or slogans—not even a really, super, very cute Instagram post. #realtalk
Bike Club is the effort to bring the joy of bicycles to Tulsa Public Schools kids. It started at Emerson last school year and has grown to five more this year. Bike Club pairs 20-25 kids with a local cycling team to maintain a 4:1 student-to-volunteer ratio for weekly meetings throughout the school calendar (September to May).
The benefits for the kids have been remarkable and immediate: students taking pride in their work, increased engagement in classes, significant changes behaviorally, etc. The teachers and administrators where Bike Club has reached have gone all in for Bike Club. The volunteers leave Bike Club giddy. Everyone gets something positive from Bike Club. To the point where most people I spoke with about Bike Club would, at some point, exclaim, “Bike Club!” Everyone is excited about it. Bike Club!
The story of Bike Club has to be heard from the source. Organizers agreed to give me the scoop over breakfast at the Corner Cafe at 11th and Peoria.
“This whole thing is a guerilla operation,” said Gary Percefull, a Tulsa School Board member and Bike Club facilitator (who ordered the Sampler Breakfast). He knows where to go and whom to speak with to get things done. He consults, volunteers and cheers on Bike Club.
Mike Wozniak (veggie omelet, no green peppers) said it started through BPAC (Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee through Indian Nations Council of Governments, a regional planner for Northeast Oklahoma), which he joined to see how he could bring about change in how Tulsans view bikes. And, to get more butts on bikes.
Humble Sons Bike Co. co-owner [see below] Jason Whorton (Western Omelet, no onions) was connected to Wozniak through BPAC. “Mike called me and said, ‘I wanna’ get a bunch of bikes!’” Whorton’s role in Bike Club is The Guy Behind the Curtain––he quietly runs the program.
Wozniak had no program and no curriculum. He just wanted to get bikes in schools to teach kids the joy of riding a bike. Whorton joined with Wozniak after the first phone call. It wasn’t until later Whorton thought about waivers and liability and training. You know, grown up stuff.
Percefull, who also met Wozniak through BPAC, was recruited for Bike Club training despite missing a key component. “Wozniak lent me his bike,” Percefull said. “I didn’t have a bike. Mike and Jane met with [Emerson Elementary Principal] Tammie States and [Emerson Social Services Specialist] Heidi Mayer and they were enthusiastic about it.” Bike Club was born.
Part of the wonder of Bike Club was how well it was received. They received free pizzas, tours of city hall and museums, and free bike gear. The downtown area and the community at large supported Wozniak’s vision and came out of the woodwork to help.
Some of the best things in the inaugural Bike Club were not material.
“The feeling I had was I wanted to be up at Emerson helping out more,” Wozniak said. “I thought that was a happy result of the whole thing.”
Last year’s Emerson Elementary Bike Club met every week and the kids responded.
“I’ve just seen positive changes,” States said. “They have taken more of a leadership role. Not only in Bike Club but in their classrooms. They feel good about themselves because they are a part of something that is unique.”
Bike Club immediately became a part of Emerson Elementary’s culture. In fact, several children who have gone on to middle school have come back to Emerson to see “Mr. Mike.”
“One of the best things from the first year was this kid who lived in the shelter. He was homeless,” Wozniak recalled. “We had a contest. I had five sets of Legos for the five kids who could ride the most laps during Bike Club. This kid rode like 5 miles. He wanted those Legos so bad. But this kid who came in sixth, who wasn’t going to win any Legos, this homeless kid gave the sixth place kid his Legos just to be fair, in the spirit of sport. I thought that was great.”
Tulsa Public Schools also thinks Bike Club is great and want to expand it. Bike Club organizers agreed but wanted to increase the number of participating schools carefully after the first year. TPS was quick to jump at the chance.
“We are really excited to expand,” said Elizabeth Hebert, assistant athletic director and physical education director for TPS. “Last year we had one bike club at Emerson Elementary and it was extremely successful. We wanted to build a model out of Emerson and expand it to five additional schools this year. We think of Bike Club as something that is a win-win for everybody involved.”
Hebert explained TPS enthusiasm: “Research shows if students stay involved in any extracurricular activity, they tend to perform better academically as well as have less behavioral issues. This is a chance for them to be involved in something healthy and extremely positive.
“I’ve heard from the principal and the teachers at Emerson Elementary Bike Club, they have built a lot of pride around this program,” Hebert added. “The teachers have commented that if they are having a potential issue with a student in Bike Club in their class, they talk about how it might affect their participation in Bike Club. That student has straightened up.”
“Bike Club has given them extra motivation.” Bike Club!
The five additional Bike Clubs this year are: Cooper, Jackson, Lee, Remington and Robertson.
“We don’t know the potential really. We are trying to keep it a small group right now so that we get this right before we expand to more,” Whorton said.
Volunteers were pulled from Wozniak’s connections as an amateur racer and member of Team Soundpony. “Getting enough volunteers for Bike Club is the biggest challenge for us,” Whorton said.
Lucky Lamons, president of the Foundation for Tulsa Schools and member of the bicycle group Team 36P, is one of those volunteers. Wozniak and Lamons found themselves on a group ride together one morning. Wozniak told Lamons about his plan for Bike Club and Lamons was intrigued enough to begin volunteering his time with Emerson’s Bike Club.
It was a natural fit. “So last year I rode once a month with the kids of Emerson Elementary,” Lamons said. “And then Wozniak and I decided, ‘Hey, we got a lot of bike clubs in town, why don’t each one of our bike clubs adopt one of our schools?’”
Robertson Elementary became sponsored by Team 36P for this school year with 23 students in Bike Club. Every Bike Club has their own supporting bike team as well.
According to Lamons, the benefits are many: It is a healthy activity for kids, it gives them alternatives for transportation, teachers have integrated Bike Club maps into geography lessons, team and relationship building, and this year the curriculum has expanded. “The bike club at Emerson started journaling after their rides. That teaches them writing and public speaking,” Lamons said. Bike Club is becoming a part of each school’s culture.
Bike Club’s biggest champion might be Principal States.
“They just light up on Tuesdays when it’s Bike Club. They’ll tell me first thing in the morning, ‘We’re going to do this in Bike Club,’ They look forward to it. It gives them a purpose for getting up in the morning,” States said.
“It’s just so valuable to them. It is absolutely one of the best things that has happened to Emerson as far as outside people coming in and providing this experience,” States said.
“It’s just so awesome. You never get over that initial, ‘Wow. This is so cool.’”
Humble Sons Bike Co. is dedicated to providing bicycles, helmets and locks to every deserving child it can reach, and they are always looking for support.
In 2008, brothers-in-law Jason Whorton and Tommy Chavez wanted to create a nonprofit to give back to the Tulsa community. They went from delivering just 22 bicycles in their own trucks to delivering more than 1,000 annually through a network of partners. They have distributed 4,500 bikes since 2008.
This year (with the help of over 250 volunteers) they also assembled and gave away 1,000 bicycles benefiting 20 organizations including several foster care programs, youth service organizations and elementary schools.
Bike Club is just one part of Humble Sons and will provide 7,200 cumulative hours of Bike Club programming to its six participating schools during the 2015-2016 school year.
Bike Club program: Six elementary schools – Cooper, Emerson, Jackson, Lee, Remington and Robertson. Schools are paired with local cycling teams and meet weekly (normally Tuesdays) after school from 3-5 p.m. September-May (30 weeks total). Each club has around 20-25 student riders and maintains a 4-1 volunteer/student ratio. Humble Sons also partners with several outside groups (Hornsby, BMX performers, Tulsa Police Department Bike Patrol and USA BMX S.T.E.M program have all committed to making stops at each school).
For more from Andy, read his article on two Tulsans who converted a Blue Bird school bus into a tiny home.