The idea came to Callan Clark, director of student services for Englewood Schools, after she saw a bike secured to the front of a city bus last winter.
What if some of the district’s special needs students had the opportunity to learn about biking as a form of transportation, one that could help get them to future jobs, connect them to region’s bus and light rail system, or simply enhance their independence?
“A lot of these kids, for various reasons, may never get their drivers licenses,” she said of the 18- to 21-year-old students in the “Transition In Englewood Schools” program, also known as TIES.
Clark said the special needs of TIES students vary widely, stemming from conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, spina bifida and traumatic brain injury.
The bike idea was intriguing, but administrators knew that buying 15 new cruiser and recumbent bicycles, plus helmets, baskets and inner tubes, had the potential to be pricey. Nevertheless, they decided to get a cost estimate from a local bike shop, Any and All Bikes.
Administrators realized there had been a miscommunication when the shop called to say the district’s new bikes and gear had arrived.
“Oh, we were in such a panic,” said Clark.
The bill was around $10,000 and the district had no money to pay for it. But as is often the case, necessity is the mother of invention, or in this case vigorous fund-raising. The district applied for and won a $20,000 Kaiser “Thriving Schools” grant, half of which was earmarked for the bikes.
In addition, the TIES bike initiative received small sums from anonymous donors, proceeds from a craft fair at Englewood High School and a 25 percent discount from Any and All Bikes, which district officials say was extremely accommodating throughout the process.
Starting in March, eight students in the TIES program, including two who’d never ridden before, started using their fluorescent green bikes, first in the parking lot and later for outings in the community.
“They were so excited,” said Clark. “This is really going to bring independence and freedom to these students.”
The TIES biking program, which emphasizes both life skills and wellness, finished for the year last week, but will return next fall. While a few other Colorado districts incorporate biking into physical education classes, Clark said Englewood is the only one she knows of to incorporate biking into a program for special needs students.
It was, she said, “a self-fulfilling prophecy that they ordered the bikes.”