Pedals for Progress and School-based Community Service

by Kelli McMahon
Spring 2012 InGear

As a middle-school teacher, helping twelve- and thirteen-year-olds understand the importance of giving back to their community and their world is just as important as teaching them how to infer meaning from a text, how to organize their writing, or how to solve for x. I am lucky enough to work in a building where community service opportunities are abundant and there seems to be constant flow of fundraising for different causes. When I started teaching here at Tohickon Middle School in Doylestown, PA, eight years ago, I, along with the team of teachers I worked with, wanted to create a community service activity that stood out from all of the other options already in place. We wanted something that would not only help others, but would give our particular team of students a chance to learn something new and important and provide a chance for them to work together to build a strong relationship. One of the teachers on our team had heard of Pedals for Progress and suggested that we hold a bike drive. After a little research into the organization, we decided to give it a try.

Since then, we have held eight bike drives—one each year—and have collected over 800 bicycles and approximately $9,800.

Students preparing a bicycle for the shipping container

Students preparing a bicycle for the shipping container

Along with the knowledge that the lives of over 800 individuals have been improved, the students involved in the bike drive have a great learning experience. Each year, our new team of 7th graders is presented with the task of organizing the bike drive. To do this, the students learn many life skills that cannot be taught in a classroom. First, students must research the countries where the bikes might be sent and attempt to grasp the need present in those countries. In a time of cell phones and computers and iPods, it can be difficult for kids to understand that there are people in the world who consider running water and transportation by motor vehicle luxuries; so, having the students research the countries with which Pedals for Progress partners gives the students a glimpse into how people in other, less fortunate parts of world live. This not only helps the students realize how the bikes will improve the lives of those receiving them, but also helps them understand how fortunate they are.

After researching the countries, the students work together in groups to develop an advertising plan, which includes designing a flyer that they can distribute in their neighborhoods and communities. It would seem that getting people to come to our bike drive each year would get harder and harder, being that it is held in the same town and advertised to the same community each time. One would expect that the flow of used bikes would run dry sooner rather than later. However, with our new crop of seventh graders each year come new ideas and new motivation and they always seem to get the word out about the drive to people who have not been reached before. This has led to our successful run of bike drives. Working in their groups to advertise the bike drive, the students learn the benefits of teamwork. This makes the relationships among our students stronger. Throughout this process the students also gain some insight into how to market an idea, which is a very important and relevant skill to have in today’s world.

Students in front of the Tohickon Middle School Building after their collection

Students in front of the Tohickon Middle School Building
after their collection

Finally, after researching and planning and advertising, comes the day of the bike drive—the day when all of the hard work and effort put forth by the students pays off. Over our eight years holding a drive, we have collected bikes in wind, sun, rain and even a rare October snowstorm. Each time, no matter what the weather, it is a day of teamwork, fun, and memories. The kids enjoy working together to “break down” the bikes to prepare them for shipping and assist the donors with the bikes they are coming to deliver. The people who come to donate are always so grateful to get rid of the bikes that were clogging their garages and that they didn’t know what to do with. This aspect of hosting a Pedals for Progress Bike Drive is such a perfect model for a community service activity.

Everyone wins. The students gain invaluable life lessons and teamwork skills. The people who donate are happy to have found a home for their unwanted, but not unusable, bikes that were taking up much needed space and gathering cobwebs. Most of all, the lives of the individuals who receive the bikes in different parts of the world are forever changed. Getting to work or school, reaching needed medical attention, and accessing water and food sources all become easier for those that the bikes reach. Hosting a Pedals for Progress Bike Drive is the ultimate win-win and we look forward to doing year after year.

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