By Gun Wiriyasajja
BU News Service
BROOKLINE, Mass.— Brookline High School students are repairing donated bikes as part of a new initiative designed to promote bicycling and provide hands-on experience for the students.
BikeOn was launched earlier this month by BHS English teacher Elon Fischer, who supervises around 30 participating students. Members of BikeOn collect, repair and donate bikes to children who can’t afford one.
“It’s a soft start, but we’re open,” Fischer said. “[The students] can learn about bike repair, do things around bikes and connecting with the community,”
Fischer said the program would promote bike culture at BHS by encouraging students to bike, and by creating a bike-parking area at the school.
Twice a week, Fischer and his students spend an hour after school in the basement of the Unified Art Building of BHS at 46 Tappan St., where they analyze and fix the donated bikes.
As of Monday, the program has 30 bikes on its donation list.
“When more bikes show up, we’re probably going to meet more often,” Fischer said.
Fischer said students assume different leadership positions within the program. “We have six to 10 students in repair, six in business, a bunch working with community donation,” Fischer said.
Fischer led an effort to start BikeOn in October 2016 with the help of Elijah Evans, who taught at BHS until last month.
Evans has been working for Bikes Not Bombs, a nonprofit organization based in Jamaica Plain, which collects, repairs and distributes bicycles to economically developing countries around the world. Fischer and Evans brought the similar mission to BikeOn.
Two other BHS teachers also recently joined the program: Glen Gurner, who helps with engineering; and Brittany Stevens, who helps with the business side.
Cynthia Snow, the chairwoman of the Brookline Bicycle Advisory Committee, which advises the Brookline Transportation Board on matters such as bicycle access, supports the program.
“It’s a great idea,” Snow said. “It’s good that people are interested in bike repair. The program is fairly new, but I think it will encourage students to bike more.”
Max Barrett, a senior at Brookline High School, runs the Bike Committee at BHS. A self-taught bike mechanic, Barrett rides his bike to school everyday and teaches other students to repair bikes as part of the program.
“We meet after school in the basement with goals to learn and create a bike shop. I really hope it works out,” Barrett said. “My fear is just not having enough commitment in kids to learn what they need to do.”
When asked what he thought about BikeOn, BHS Assistant Headmaster Hal Mason said, in an email interview Wednesday, that BHS generally supports all innovative types of programs. He said that BikeOn was a great way to get kids involved in hands-on learning.
“As a high school in a town that actively promotes biking and a school that does not allow for student parking, we have a large number of students who bike to school every day even in tough weather,” Mason said. “To support this we have in the past few years added additional bike racks around the perimeter of the school.”
Masha Kazantsev, a sophomore at BHS, said she learned about BikeOn from one of the teachers who leads the environmental club and joined it within a week.
“It’s a really cool idea, especially because it’s student-run. You are getting old bikes, fixing them and giving them away to kids who need them,” Kazantsev said.
Kazantsev said she used to bike everywhere when she was little and hopes that BikeOn could promote more bikes at the school.
“If the town sees that BHS uses bikes a lot it might actually help with building bike lanes,” Kazantsev said.
Fischer said the group is working on getting more bike donations and that they would pick up the donated bikes in the next few days.
He said he hopes that the students could develop real-world job skills as they prepare for college, and to be part of the larger Brookline bicycling community.
“It seems like a worthwhile undertaking,” Fischer said. “This is not my program; it belongs to [the students]. I’m only here to do whatever I can to support what they want.”