Alternative education shifts into high gear

Students at Goshen Middle School repair a bike as part of the school’s Changing Gears program last fall. The program this fall will expand to full days.

GOSHEN — Goshen Community Schools will expand its alternative middle school program from a half day to a full day for the 2019-20 school year, school officials said.

The corporation started an alternative program called Changing Gears last year where students master academic skills while also learning the art and science of bicycle repair.

It’s designed to give students who struggle in a traditional classroom setting a more hands-on approach to learning.

The program is housed at one of the portables at the middle school and is instructed by Kyle Weldy. 

Steve Hope, deputy superintendent who oversees secondary education, told the school board this week that the program’s first year has been successful, however, one of the downsides was that it’s only a half-day program.

“Very few middle school parents are looking for half day of school for their children,” he said. “They’d rather have a whole day.”

Last year the program served 30-some students in sixth through eighth grades. Students spent part of the day building and repairing bicycles and the other part of the day in an online curriculum.

“They simply attended school for just a half day and then worked at home the other half of the day,” he said.

This upcoming school year, students will spend a quarter of their day in each of these areas; bicycle repair, physical education, art or another elective, and online learning. Students will also receive counseling services.

“This program will meet the needs of more students next year with the full-day schedule,” Hope said of the change. “By adding the physical education class, the art class and counseling, we are addressing the whole child – mind, body and spirit,” Hope said. “Our success is measured through growth and interim assessments and the successful transition back into the regular classroom.”

The curriculum

Changing Gears’ curriculum includes assessing the condition of donated bicycles and then repairing the bicycles for resale.

The program is a partnership between the school corporation and Goshen’s community bicycle garage, Chain Reaction Bicycle Project.

Chain Reaction has provided professional development for the program as well as ongoing support with technical questions and parts, Hope said.

Although most of the bicycles are resold through Chain Reaction, Changing Gears is also selling the bicycles, Hope said.

“As students learn the art of bicycle repair and maintenance, they also learn about life, teamwork, problem-solving and meeting deadlines,” he said.

The idea for the program started when GCS administrators visited Wawasee High School’s Boarding School, where students make skateboard and surfboards.

“Goshen has long been a community concentrating on quality of life and has invested heavily in walking and biking paths,” Hope said. “Combining a great school with a great community resource seemed like a natural fit for the Goshen Community for our unique version of an alternative school.”

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