In a portable classroom at Queen Elizabeth Secondary, six students intently focus on various mountain bikes suspended on bike stands throughout the class.
The dull roar of voices mix with the whir of spinning bike chains as students put the finishing touches on their own restored two-wheelers.
It may look like an ordinary shop class, but this group of Surrey high school students has been learning how to repair bikes and give back to the community at the same time.
Many of the students enrolled in this hands-on program have struggled in mainstream classrooms and were beginning to slip through the cracks. That’s when Debbie Holmes came up with a unique plan.
Holmes, a career and work experience coordinator with the Surrey School District, decided to give the students the opportunity to learn about bicycle repair and at the same time, support the Surrey Christmas Bureau.
Through a partnership with REC for Kids, a non-profit society based in Newton which refurbishes used bikes for less-fortunate kids, the Queen Elizabeth students were given used mountain bikes in various stages of disrepair and were then tasked with getting them in perfect running order.
Each student was given two bikes to fix up without realizing one was for the Christmas bureau and one was for themselves.
“Many of the students at the beginning were anxious, but now look at them all,” said Holmes, scanning the classroom. “They’re all in there working hard and they are so proud of their bikes.”
When the program was in its infancy, Holmes enlisted the help of Maple Ridge Cycle owner Troy Scott.
“When Debbie came to me about the program, I said sure I’d love to help,” said Scott.
He feels a connection with the kids and understands where many of them are coming from.
“Going through school I was more interested in bikes than anything,” he said. “It’s all about helping the kids and team work. Bikes can be the gateway and the path to give them direction and the confidence.”
For Grade 10 student Isabella Cavezza, 15, the program has given her the self-esteem to try new things.
During the first few classes, she felt like the odd one out, sitting on the sidelines. Not having had any experience with mechanical repair in the past, she felt lost.
However, after gradually getting involved, her knowledge and confidence began to blossom.
“I started to learn a lot and now I know pretty much everything about bikes. And I feel so good that I can help give people bikes because they are so expensive.”
She’s now even considering becoming a mechanic.
For Holmes, the change in the students has been tremendous.
“This is real change. It gives them something positive,” she said. “Now we just need to make sure they all have helmets.”