Q&A With: Joe Bishop of Roger E. Sides Elementary, Karnes City, Texas

Background

Photo of children playingRoger E. Sides Elementary School (R.E.S.) received a $1,000 SRTS mini grant from the National Center to support the school's ongoing efforts to increase safe walking and bicycling to school. We caught up with Joe Bishop, an R.E.S. fifth grade science teacher, to learn more about their Bike Club and to hear about some of its successes.

Q: What is the Bike Club and what is the purpose of it?

A: The R.E.S. Bike Club is set up as a bike and community service club. Anyone in our school is welcome to become a member and the purpose of the club is to teach the kids safety, work ethic and responsibility. The Bike Club also gives kids a purpose after school, rather than just watching TV, and an opportunity to be mobile and exercise on their own. I believe that if we raise kids who are self-sufficient, they will be self-sufficient adults.

Q: How does the Bike Club program operate?

A: The Bike Club is set up so students can earn points by completing small tasks after school, such as beautifying flower beds or cleaning classrooms, which can be used to "purchase" bike parts, accessories and helmets at the school store. Once the students have earned the points and parts they need to repair their bikes, they can bring them to a free weekly bike repair workshop where I am joined by experienced students and other volunteers to help make the repairs.

A student can also earn a bike by writing a one-page letter to our school's principal describing why he or she would like a bike. The principal then talks with each student's teacher to determine where that particular student could improve in the classroom, i.e. grades, conduct or responsibility, and a contract is created between the student and the principal with that personal improvement goal in mind. If all requirements of the contract are upheld for a month, the student can earn a bike. To date, all 36 students who have written letters have upheld their contracts and earned their own bike.

Q: What or who inspired R.E.S. Elementary to create the Bike Club?

A: Many of the children that attend our school come from single parent homes, and often either the TV becomes the babysitter or they get into trouble because they have nothing to do after school. The idea for the Bike Club stemmed from seeing a need for a fun and safe way to keep kids entertained after school and the kids were really receptive to it.

Biking has always been a big part of my life so forming the Bike Club was the natural choice for me to get involved. I may have started the Bike Club, but lots of folks have pitched in by donating their time, money, and bikes and bike parts.

Q: Can you describe some of the results of the Bike Club?

A: Sure. There are four "results" of the Bike Club that are particularly impressive in my mind:

  1. We've empowered the kids to know that if they want something, they can earn it. We have also found that our students are now taking better care of their bikes and generally being more responsible.
  2. We have gone from less than five percent of the student bicycle riders not having or wearing helmets to now 100 percent of kids wearing helmets when they ride to school in our weekly summer bicycle rides and our monthly bicycle rides during the school year.
  3. We've also really impacted the sense of community in Karnes City. The Bike Club now leads a weekly bike ride for between 30 to 100 participants from all different walks of life who ride bicycles or walk together as a group.
  4. And last but not least, some Bike Club members have actually improved their overall performance in the classroom, even after their contractual agreements with the principal are met.

Q: In your opinion, what is most challenging aspect of the Bike Club?

A: Sustainability of the program is the biggest challenge. What will happen to the Bike Club when I retire? Do I continue running the Bike Club after retirement? Will a student volunteer be in charge? I am up for retirement in three years and there is a lot to be figured out before then.

Q: What have you learned that you can share with individuals who are involved with a SRTS program or individuals who are looking to start a SRTS program at their school?

A: We are too much of a give, give society. Kids will work and will work hard, if given the opportunity, especially if they can see what they are working for is tangible. Also, it's important to remember that safety is number one. Push all your students to wear bicycle helmets. And last but not least, when you start a program, get into it and never look back.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about the Bike Club, Joe. We hope it's another great year ahead!

If there is an inspirational person/program in your community that you would like us to consider profiling in a future Q&A with column, e-mail Caroline Dickson, dickson@hsrc.unc.edu.