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Kids Learn Skills To Fix a Bike, Succeed in School

Sixth-graders in Northwestern University's "Project Excite" learned how to repair and maintain a bike and improved their writing skills during the second year of a summer bike program.

Tires squeal in the Evanston Public Library’s basement garage as a group of sixth-graders test out the new bikes they’ve just learned how to repair and maintain. 

Understanding how to fix the brakes was the most useful lesson, says Jojo Tertullien, 11, a student at Betsy Rhodes. “You need brakes because otherwise you have to use your feet!” he explains. 

The six-week program enrolled students involved in Project Excite, a partnership between , and that is designed to bridge the gap between minority and nonminority students in science and math. Besides learning basic bike skills, Tertullien and his fellow students wrote stories about bicycles, read poetry and completed writing prompts in the library. 

The summer bike program was formed when Project Excite organizers found that minority students’ literacy skills often lagged behind those of their nonminority counterparts, too. In the past, the library's summer program for Project Excite students has combined math and science lessons with literacy work. But last year, library staff secured a donation from the Evanston Bike Club to buy bikes from Working Bikes in Chicago, to be distributed to students at the end of the program.

At last Wednesday’s class, students decorated their bikes with colored tape and got fitted for helmets. This week, they will present what they’ve learned in the program to their parents or caregivers.

“It was mainly the basic things,” said Syann Holmes, 11, who is going into sixth grade at Betsy Rhodes.

But those basic skills will be valuable, she said. Asked whether she would feel comfortable fixing her new bike on her own if the brakes failed or she had a flat tire, Holmes was confident she could.

Project Excite enrolls 25 students in third grade each year, and that same group stays together throughout the program, until it ends in eighth grade. The program’s first cohort to enroll, who entered the program when it was founded in 2001, just graduated from Evanston Township High School this spring.

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