For a teenager, riding a bicycle is liberating, but riding a bicycle you built with your own hands is an achievement. At one of the state’s oldest children and youth focused not-for-profit organisations, they’re getting the opportunity to do just that.
The teenagers are students in Parkerville Children and Youth Care’s Education, Employment and Training Program and participate in Ride AHEAD – a collaboration between Parkerville, Curtin University and Dismantle, a bicycle rescue group that offers bicycle repairing mentoring sessions.
With help from Dismantle bicycle mechanics, they restore two bicycles: one for charity and one for themselves. Through bicycle restoration and career assistance from Parkerville and Curtin staff, students learn basic mechanics, gain confidence in themselves and acquire interpersonal skills essential for employment and furthering their education.
The program is associated with the Curtin AHEAD initiative, which seeks to raise awareness and understanding of the benefits of higher education.
Len Nielsen, a staff volunteer from Curtin Student Equity who helped kick-start the program, says Ride AHEAD is the stepping- stone for inspiring youth into university study.
“It’s a long-term thing that can actually have an influence on them going to university in years to come,” he says.
Curtin provides Parkerville students with career development sessions, a Curtin career day excursion and regular volunteers at the workshops.
“We provide guidance and an excursion that includes a tour of the campus and the chance to speak to student ambassadors, who are of a similar age,” Nielsen says.
“Without Ride AHEAD the students might not have the exposure to university and may not consider it as an option. We give them a glimpse into a possible future.”
The Parkerville program enables disengaged youth to graduate from secondary education and prepares them for employment through practical training, career development and classroom sessions in a welcoming environment.
Parkerville Education, Employment and Training Program Manager Anna Ellis has noticed a significant change in the students who attend the workshops.
“For students who have not succeeded in mainstream school the bike workshop has been a great incentive to re-engage in education.”
Parkerville student Melissa Benfield looks forward to the bike workshop every week.
“We made bikes to donate first and now we’re making our own with a lot of help from the staff, so I feel very confident in making bikes now,” she says.
Ellis says the Ride AHEAD program has contributed to Parkerville’s already established student career development focus by introducing the possibilities of higher education to students.
“Having people in from Curtin has given them the idea to do something more after school.”
Nielsen says the outcomes of the program can’t be measured by academic results or university recruitment numbers, but through students’ personal growth and development.
“They’re much more confident in their ability to fix bikes and feel that they have actually achieved something,” he says.
“They’re proud of the fact that this is their bike, they chose the colour and put it back together and understand what’s going on. There’s some ownership, confidence and pride in what they’re doing.”
Project Coordinator Silvia Lozeva hopes Ride AHEAD will maintain its momentum in 2015, and has plans to take the initiative to other educational providers.