By Monicia Warner

The Bulletin

Students at Ponderosa Elementary will soon have a fleet of two-wheeled learning tools at their disposal.

The Ponderosa PTA recently purchased 22 bikes to provide additional educational opportunities for students and add to the school’s Safe Routes to School program in conjunction with Commute Options of Bend.

Nine schools in Bend have implemented the Safe Routes curriculum, which teaches students everything from safety, geography, social sciences and physical health in connection with how to ride a bicycle, according Brian Potwin, education coordinator of Commute Options, a transportation nonprofit.

“We’ve been working with Ponderosa for the last two years and the PTA got involved about a year and a half ago,” Potwin said last week. “They wanted to purchase bikes to combine with the program and add to their educational curriculum. We connected them with Jeff (Schuler) of Bicycle Re-Source of Bend and they worked out the purchasing of the bikes.”

Schuler is co-founder and president of Bicycle Re-Source, which refurbishes bicycles and donates them to community groups. He said the nonprofit services 51 organizations across Central Oregon, and Ponderosa’s order is one of the largest.

“I’m a big advocate of getting outdoors, obviously a big advocate of bicycle safety and there’s a big difference between having recess in a gym and taking the kids out on a field trip,” Schuler said. “I’m pretty impressed with what Ponderosa is doing. I think it’s going to make (the kids) more well-rounded; I think it’s going to make them healthy as well.”

In October, the PTA voted to purchase six 20-inch and 16 24-and-26-inch refurbished bikes with $1,700 left over from last year’s Spring Auction.

“If you look at ’em, you wouldn’t think they were refurbished,” said PTA Vice President Shara Carnahan. “It’s unbelievable. You’re looking at it thinking, ‘Are you sure this is not a new bike?’”

Carnahan said the decision to purchase the bikes wasn’t easily made because a few PTA members were skeptical about how plans for the bikes would unfold.

“There were questions of ‘who’s going to repair ’em’ and ‘where are we going to store ’em’? It took a lot of convincing to get everyone on board with the bikes,” she said.

Jules Baumgarte, Ponderosa PTA president, said the school is still toying with uses for the bikes, but wants them used inside and outside the classroom, including trips to nearby Pine Nursery Park.

“We’ve mentioned to a few teachers about using the bikes in the classroom — taking measurements and learning about forward propulsion,” Baumgarte said. “The kids are already excited and picking out what bikes they love the most.”

When it comes to repairs, the PTA plans to vote at its next meeting to allocate some of the proceeds from the May 2 Spring Auction to scholarships for Ponderosa students to attend bicycle maintenance classes offered by Bicycle Re-Source of Bend.

“Those kids will then be able to come back and teach younger kids bicycle maintenance,” Baumgarte said.

Ponderosa PTA is also looking into several other options, including writing a grant for a bike trailer, creating a student bike shop at the school and putting bar codes on the bikes.

“Say kids live a distance away from the school, they’ll be able to borrow a bike like a library book and take (it) home,” Baumgarte said. “We’ll do a contract with parents at the beginning of the year and then register the bikes with Bend city police.”

Baumgarte said more bikes are scheduled to be delivered this week to “complete the fleet” and increase the total to 35. The bikes and 200 helmets donated by the Center Foundation, a nonprofit focused on prevention of sports-related injuries, will be presented to kids at a May 9 kickoff at Pine Nursery Park. At the event, students will be fitted for helmets and those who don’t have a bike will get to do a few laps around the park.

“We think that when the kids start taking care of the bikes, it’s going to be a positive thing for everyone,” Baumgarte said. “The kids are so excited and it’s just opening so many doors for our school.”

—Reporter: 541-633-2117, mwarner@bendbulletin.com

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