Written by Arkansas Real Estate
A bicycle is a ticket to health, mobility, freedom and fun. Bicycling isn’t just a way to get from one place to another; it’s an avenue to a better life and when communities, businesses and universities get on board, great things happen.” League of American Bicyclists.
The Gateway Bike Shop is part of Bentonville Public School’s Alternative Learning Environment. Students who work in the shop repair around 600 bikes a year, maintaining all of the bicycles owned and used by the Bentonville Public School System.
Bentonville, Ark. -- Shortly after lunch on a Thursday afternoon, Katie Whisenhunt is in class, just like other students her age. But there’s something remarkably different about the classroom. Bikes of all sizes are lined up against the wall. A few bikes are hanging from racks in various stages of repair. Wearing a worker’s apron, Katie turns a bicycle wheel, checking the tension in the spokes.
The bike shop is part of Gateway, Bentonville Public School's Alternative Learning Environment, a learning community dedicated to helping students who are behind on credits.
“Everyone here has something in his or her past that has put them behind,” says shop teacher Jason Swim. “The goal is to help them graduate on time, with their peers, or very closely behind.”
The Gateway Bike Shop is only one half of an entrepreneurial program that teaches students real-world skills like professional communication. The students who work in the Gateway Bike Shop are the sole caretakers of the hundreds of bikes owned and used in Bentonville’s Trail Time Program. After being trained on bike anatomy and shop tools, the Gateway Bike Shop students spend their time maintaining, repairing and even rebuilding the bicycles that pass through the garage doors.
“I was a little nervous at first,” Katie admits, “but now I’m fixing bikes on my own, with a little help.”
Swim, who worked at Pack Rat during college and received training from the Barnett Bicycle Institute, is well equipped to step in when necessary but says the shop is also designed to be a safe environment, where students can feel comfortable to make mistakes. When two small parts clatter to the floor, Swim steps over to help seniors Tyler McCool and Zac Dunn assess the situation.
“With a safe place to fail and grow, students can succeed in much more than building a bicycle,” says Paul Stolt, who is visiting the Gateway Bike Shop from the BPS administration office.
Stolt, who is the Director of Communications at Bentonville Public Schools, is also an avid bike rider and supporter of the Gateway Bike Shop.
“We hope to give them something they can carry forward -- the ability to discover solutions,” he explains. “This skill will help them succeed in much more than building a bicycle.”
Now in its fourth year, the Bentonville Public School Trail Time Program is established, but not without room for improvement. Even with a team of crackerjack student mechanics, the need for new equipment is growing. Stolt says the school system and community members are considering different ways to sustain the program.
“We are always looking for funding and partnerships,” says Stolt.
The bikes were originally purchased with funding from the Walton Family Foundation, Coca-Cola, the Bentonville Public Schools Foundation and the Walmart Visitors Center. With help from local businesses like Phat Tire and organizations like the Bentonville Parks and Rec Department, the transition of cycling in Bentonville Public Schools is well underway.
If you are interested in supporting the Bentonville Public School’s Trail Time Program, contact Paul Stolt at 479.254.5006 / 479.366.0487 or pstolt@bentonvilleK12.org.
At Steve Fineberg & Associates, we are passionate about exploring, discovering and sharing the things that make Northwest Arkansas great. Join us during the month of September as we visit with people in our community who are passionate about the Northwest Arkansas trail systems and the local biking culture.