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Building a Better World, One Bike at a Time

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    EL Education

On Thursday, May 3rd, dozens of fifth graders unloaded large cardboard boxes from the back of a truck and carried them into their school’s gymnasium in Littleton, Colorado. Wet snow was falling -- but that didn’t stop students at Summit View Elementary from carrying out their secret mission: building 55 bikes for every second grader at nearby East Elementary School. Their co-conspirators? Wish for Wheels, a nonprofit organization that builds bikes and provides helmets for children in low-income communities.

The day marked the culmination of months of work and relationship-building between Summit View Elementary and East Elementary, a Title 1 school. Since October, students from both schools have bonded through a buddy system, writing letters to one another, and visiting each other’s schools. But second graders at East Elementary had no idea that on May 3rd, they would be leaving school with a brand new bike.

The morning of the bike build, Summit View fifth graders worked hard to ensure that every part -- from the wheels, to the pedals -- was correctly in place to ensure their friends at East Elementary received high-quality, safe bikes. Within 45 minutes, over 75 bikes had been built by the students, part of the school’s celebration of Better World Day.

According to fifth grade teacher Jen Ritchey, students -- in true EL Education fashion -- led every step of the project, honing their entrepreneurial skills and leadership abilities. “They reached out to local businesses to raise all the money and we wound up with 32 donors. They had to practice their persuasive writing and speaking skills to craft elevator pitches and call or visit the business in person -- and then write thank you notes regardless of whether the person donated,” said Ritchey. Students also made pamphlets, books, and posters that educated their friends at East Elementary on topics like bike safety, helmet-fitting, and how to fix a flat tire.

The students’ efforts exceeded expectations. “The bikes cost $100 each, so we needed to raise $5500 total. I wrote and rewrote pitches to local businesses. We wound up raising over $2,000 more than our goal,” said fifth-grader Andrew Newsum. The students built a remarkable 75 bikes and Wish for Wheels will donate the extra bikes to other children in the community.

Later that day came the big reveal: Fifth graders again faced the rain with smiles as they unloaded the finished bikes from the Wish for Wheels truck at East Elementary and formed a big line in front of the bikes in the school’s cafeteria. When the second graders arrived, Ms. Ritchey spoke about how special it had been for the two schools to get to know each other during the year. A cheer erupted from the second graders as she announced the gift and Summit View students parted to reveal the bikes.

As the East Elementary students stood astride their new wheels and the fifth graders explained the importance of bike safety and maintenance, it was obvious that the older students were happy to pass along their love of bicycling. “I love to ride my bike,” said Summit View fifth grader Jagger Burkinshaw. “I feel free, with the air blowing in my face. Before today, I asked my buddy if he had a bike and he said no. I’m so happy to be able to give this to him.”

To see 100 more student-led projects for Better World Day, click here

Students worked quickly to unload the bikes from the Wish For Wheels truck in the snow!

Wish For Wheels staff explained how to build a bike to students.

Fifth graders used wrenches and elbow grease to ensure each part of the bike was correctly placed.

The bikes were carefully inspected by student 'quality control' experts to make sure they were ready for primetime!

Students unloaded the bikes, which they tied with red ribbon, into the cafeteria at East Elementary School.

Cheers of excitement erupted when the second grader learned they would be receiving the bikes!

Students proudly showed off their new wheels -- and helmets!

Safety was paramount: Summit View fifth graders gave the second graders carefully crafted pamphlets and posters to educate the younger students about changing tires, helmet fit, and hand signals.

At the end of day, heartfelt hugs were exchanged as the students said goodbye!