A Better Shop Class

Luis Gallegos (left) and Aaron Stahl (right) with principal Allen Young (center) at the Met Sacramento High School’s Bike Collective.

Luis Gallegos (left) and Aaron Stahl (right) with principal Allen Young (center) at the Met Sacramento High School’s Bike Collective.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Bicycle Times issue #17, published in June 2012. Words by David Boerner. Photo courtesy of Met Sacramento.

The Met Sacramento High School bears very little resemblance to the prison-like institutions I used to sneak away from when I was a teenager. Students here go to school only three days a week and participate in project-based learning, doing cool, hands-on things. The other two days are spent interning under a mentor in a real-world setting. Their building is LEED certified. They grow their own vegetables. To top it off, one-third of the student body and staff commute to school by bike.

That’s a bicycle commuter rate similar to Amsterdam’s!

When the question was posed, “What do we do at a project-based school to solve the problem of bike maintenance?”, a group of students answered: start a community bike shop, like the ones they’d read about in “Community Bike Shops 101” (from Bicycle Times issue #12).

The Met Sacramento Bike Collective started as the senior thesis project by Aaron Stahl, Jeremy Gray, and Brayden Kent. But the three expect to see the bike collective live on long after they leave the Met later this year.

Stahl is the group’s most experienced mechanic, having interned at Sacramento bike shops since he was 15. “There was such a strong reaction to [the bike collective],” Stahl said. “People have a desire to learn about their bikes, but there are no resources. I got a ton of email feedback, like, ‘If I bring my bike in, can you help me fix it? If I fix it, I’ll ride it to school!’”

With the project’s demand firmly established, the trio of 18-year-olds set about investigating its feasibility. They took a bike maintenance class at REI, and met with shop owners to discuss what tools they’d need and what parts would serve their purposes.

Gray, the group’s secretary and fundraising wiz, helped secure a $2,000 donation from the annual Sacramento Appetite Enhancement Thanksgiving Day Ride. The group received another $2,000 grant from an excellent local community bike shop, the Sacramento Bike Kitchen. The bike collective opened its doors to the Met community on May 1, with a little help from Bike Kitchen volunteers, since the kids aren’t allowed to have an open shop without adult supervision. They’ll run workshops, have shop hours where students and staff will learn how to fix their own bikes, and do emergency repairs like changing the inevitable flat tires.

“Everyone in the bike community in Sacramento is on board with the bike collective,” Gray said. “They’ve been more than helpful.” It doesn’t hurt that the Met staff and principal are completely devoted to helping the students realize their passion. “There used to be auto shop at high schools,” Stahl said. “And this is kind of our version of that.”

Like the ol’ auto shop of yore encouraged kids to become competent automobile owners, the high school bike co-op of tomorrow could help Americans become competent, responsible bike commuters. It’s an unusual idea, but a very good one. Now how do we get this to be the norm?


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