BUCKLAND – Almost six years ago, the interest that arose in used bikes in the gym class at Mohawk Trail Regional School evolved into a program that offers young people the opportunity to explore mountain biking and to focus on school.
While the bicycle has served as a respite for students in recent years, it is the COVID-19 pandemic that has shown how much they need the outlet.
“As the kids got back to school this year, there was a couple who really hung onto the bike and wanted to ride every day,” recalls Angela Schatz, teacher at Mohawk Trail Regional School. “When they had difficulty, we would go cycling, and that really helped the kids. They would be unable to just function in the classroom, go out and ride a bike for any length of time, and come back and all of a sudden they could sit down and work.
The balance that Schatz created within his classroom by encouraging his students to explore an activity outside on the trails has produced students who want to continue coming to school. By creating an accessible outlet in mountain biking, Schatz has had incredible success in the academic abilities of his students.
Schatz compiled a list of bikers she knew locally and began contacting them, eager to foster community ties between students and local partners.
Chris Gilbert is one of those local bikers. Active in the mountain biking community, Gilbert runs the Eastern States Mountain Biking Cup and is a mechanic at Bicycle World in Greenfield.
While Schatz and Gilbert can trace their roots back to the 2001 Mohawk Trail Regional School class, their lives were no longer tied before this program.
“When I got the call from Angela, it was only natural for me to want to keep doing it,” he said.
“Working with kids and seeing the kind of effect it has on them when they cycle is not just a physical thing, it’s also great for the mind,” Gilbert continued. “So it’s great that I can spread knowledge (and) ride with kids. “
Gilbert got involved last spring and was able to help Schatz and the students in their weekly pioneering work. When not on the track, Schatz would take students to the parking lot to practice skills like moving and adjusting the seat.
“It was really great to see kids struggling in the school building, just when they were on the trails, they were so different,” she said. “They work together and overcome obstacles. It’s really good not only for physical stuff, but also for social and emotional stuff for kids. It helps them to join the school and be a part of something.
Along with Gilbert, who has been instrumental in developing students’ cycling skills, the program has created an opportunity for community outreach, supporting both children and cycling. The initial repairs to the bike came from $ 500 that a group of community members received from the New England Mountain Biking Association, and now Schatz is hoping more equipment and structure will come from a grant she requested. .
Outride, an organization that funds cycling initiatives for youth, offers a grant specifically aimed at college students with learning disabilities. If received, the grant will provide 10-20 new mountain bikes and helmets, as well as a basic cycling curriculum. They will find out about the grant this fall.
Schatz believes a long-term mountain biking program will keep students in school. She and Gilbert hope to support the college students in their program, also allowing them to participate in cycling lessons and internships at the high school level.
It is not only the students of the supported classes who are interested in cycling, but other young people in the building industry. The Outride scholarship would allow Schatz to expand its program to all students and create an opportunity for integration between all classes.
After watching all the kids ride bikes together, she said, it seemed like a bonding experience.
“It kind of leveled the playing field,” said Schatz, “because all kids are the same when they’re on a bike.”