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After-school program trains next generation of Buffalo bicyclists

The young girl peered through the window into the school courtyard and saw that the rain had stopped.

“Can we ride our bikes outside?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Jonathan Piret, her instructor, “but if you ride outside you can’t ride inside anymore because the water will make it slippery.”

She was already out the door.

After a long winter being cooped up inside, the kids in this after-school program at International School 45 on the West Side are anxious to test out their "new" bikes.

Since November, the 20 sixth-grade students have spent five days a week after school in this Recycle-A-Bicycle program learning about bikes from the inside out. Each received a donated used bicycle that they stripped down to the frame and reassembled again – part by part. The creative ones made a few modifications: new handle bars; tassels; a large tire on the front, a small one on the back.

[PHOTO GALLERY: Recycle-A-Bicycle Program]

“It’s something they look forward to,” said Nichole Dracup, the school’s instructional coach and one of the coordinator’s of the after-school program. “It gives them a great sense of responsibility and they take such pride in their work.”

The advocacy group GObike Buffalo sponsors the program, as it fosters the next generation of Buffalo’s bicycling community. Besides taking home the bike they built, the kids also get a helmet, lock and lights, along with lessons on safety, rules of the road, hand signals and proper bike etiquette, explained Justin Booth, GObike’s executive director.

The grant money that allowed GObike to start the program at a handful of schools has since dried up, but the program has still grown this year to 15 locations, including 10 city schools. GObike has been searching for sponsors to expand. The cost for the 10-week program is about $2,200, most of which is for the instructor’s time, Booth said.

School 45 has one of the more successful Recycle-A-Bicycle programs, growing from two to five days a week in its third year at the school on Hoyt Street.

Recycle-A-Bicycle instructor Jonathan Piret helps students Vung Cien, center, and Ahkka Mui, right, fix a tire on Cien’s bike in the bike room at International School 45 in Buffalo Thursday, April 6, 2017. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

A small locker room outside the gymnasium was turned into their bike shop, where the students hone their skills as mechanics and learn the difference between a head tube and a bottom bracket.

Their bikes are stacked against each other near a bench. The tools hang on a pegboard near the dirty aprons. Bike parts fill several large buckets on the floor.

Me Reh, 11, was hard at work on a girl's pink and purple bike flipped upside down, wheels in the air.

He tugged and tugged trying to separate one of the rubber tires from its rim.

“Sometimes it frustrates them, but it’s more of a reward when they do it themselves,” said Piret, the GObike instructor.

The kids in the program at School 45 are from a variety of countries – the Congo, Somalia, Burma – and not all speak English, so communicating can be a challenge, Piret said. But in this age of video games, he takes pride in the kids working with their hands, learning mechanics and problem solving. By the time it's over, they're ready to face any loose chain or flat tire to come their way.

“It’s easy,” said Reh, one of Piret’s promising bike mechanics. “I can take everything apart and put it back together.”

Hay Thaw Moo, also 11, has a bike at home, but she prefers the one she rebuilt.

“It’s more my color,” she said. “Plus, my old bike is getting small.”

Kids involved in the after-school program, Recycle-A-Bicycle, pose for picture in the lobby of International School 45 in Buffalo Thursday, April 6, 2017. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

A supervised ride from the school to home will serve as a graduation ceremony, of sorts, for the kids.

At this point, all of them have reassembled their bikes and, in recent days when the weather was nice, rode a couple of times throughout the neighborhood around the school. One of the boys even learned to ride a bike for the first time.

On this afternoon, however, it’s damp and dreary so the kids rode their bikes through the empty hallways of the school.

A few of the girls spotted their classmate riding her bike in the courtyard and decided to join her.

That prompted Piret to open a window and yell out to them a friendly reminder: “Helmets!”

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