Bikes raffled off to Linden STEM program students who built them

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LINDEN, NJ — After Linden middle school students learned how to build BMX bikes during a summer STEM program, 10 of them were able to ride away on their class projects.

Eight classes were each given a kit for a Mongoose BMX bike, along with science, technology, engineering and math lessons for teachers to pass on to students. Participants also learned about the science of the sport of BMX.

The Summer STEM Academy hosted more than 80 students in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades for five hours a day, Monday through Thursday, at Soehl Middle School. Students participated in several activities, including recreational, social and emotional learning activities, and language arts and math enrichment opportunities. The program also partnered with Liberty Science Center for daily virtual STEM activities, which included coding and forensics.

“Part of this job’s requirement is to oversee the 21st Century Community Learning Center,” Director of Grants Isabella Scocozza, who oversaw the program, said on Tuesday, Aug. 10. “We’re a model program for our after-school program, and we just received word last week that we received a continuation grant application from the DOE. We’re currently going into our 17th year having a 21st Century after-school program alongside a Summer STEM Academy.

“I wanted something with the kids that would be hands-on and would be an ongoing project,” she continued. “I did a little research, and I found a BMX STEM curriculum bike kit. We purchased the two kits, which consists of 10 bikes, and it came with a set curriculum and detailed day-to-day activities students would have to do to build a bike together from the ground up.

“Each class was on a different path. Each day, they would allocate time to work on this project,” said Scocozza. “Our BMX Bike Challenge allowed our 21st Century students to learn various hands-on concepts involving STEM, which is our theme for our after-school program, and the summer school time is integrated through STEM concepts.”

Once the bikes were built, there was a raffle to choose one winner per room to keep the bike they had constructed.

“Our students took such pride in each step. They were eager to see the finished project, and the students learned every step of the way important skills for STEM,” Scocozza said. “Students enjoyed this activity so much; we’re even looking to incorporate it in the after-school program for the fall.

“Once all the bikes were finished, several physical education teachers tested it and made sure it was safe for the students,” she continued. “We brought the bikes into the auditorium, and we had an interactive raffle for the students and we raffled them off. It was great to see the students’ excitement to own a BMX bike that they built with their own hands and with the assistance of friends and teachers. Everyone was on board and happy for one another, regardless of if they won the bike or not. They were excited and eager to participate in the challenge.”

The last two bikes that were made were the teacher’s choice, given to students who were respectful, responsible and helpful throughout the five-week program.

Lead teacher Jennifer Veltre, who oversaw the project, applauded the impact this made on the children who participated.

“We’re very fortunate to receive such a wonderful grant through the 21st Century Program,” Veltre said on Tuesday, Aug. 10. “A lot of our students for the summertime don’t want to be necessarily focusing on math and science, but I think that they realized that, through a STEM program, it doesn’t just have to be sitting down, working out numbers and staring at a screen. We had so many kids that flourished with this bike build.

“Some were realizing they wanted to do something in engineering, and we even had students Googling what it takes to be a BMX rider after this. A select group of them were so into this, they were able to take the tools home as well, so they now know how to fix their bicycle if something were to happen. A lot of them are just 10, 11 and 12 years old, so for them to be able to work with their hands — seeing it was incredible.”

School district teacher and staff member Marvin Gabriel was involved in the program and said it was great to see children being productive.

“It feels good, because, in this day and age, a lot of these kids are on their phones and not doing a lot of active things and not working with their hands,” Gabriel said on Tuesday, Aug. 10. “It’s great to know that we do have these kids that want to work with their hands and do things other than be on the computer.

“It warmed my heart, because these kids showed me the total opposite of other kids who are constantly on their phones,’ he continued. “They were engaged, they didn’t need to watch YouTube, they didn’t need to read the manuals and they knew what they were doing. It made me really happy.”

Photos Courtesy of Gary Miller