Quick spin: Bike Shop at School's Julie Mitchell

Santa Cruz high school training programme

Julie Mitchell is the co-founder and executive director of Project Bike Trip, home to Bike Shop at School bicycle education programme in Santa Cruz, California. 

Mitchell spent many summers wheeling about her grandfather’s bicycle components factory, Phil Wood & Co. in nearby San Jose, and has enjoyed a career of bicycle racing, journalism, book publishing and bicycle education.

BikeRadar spoke to Mitchell about the local programme, and about plans to expand nationwide.

What prompted you to start this initiative and when?

Bike Shop at School was envisioned by Bicycle Trip bike shop owner Berri Michel, who recognized the need for trained, qualified bicycle mechanics. Her vision manifested into a bicycle education programme called Bike Shop at School, which launched in January 2007 as a pilot Regional Occupation Programme at Harbor High School in Santa Cruz.

Two years later, the programme has expanded from Harbor High to two additional schools within Santa Cruz County. This programme expansion wouldn’t be possible without the dedication and hard work of Kirk Bernhardt, who taught the Harbor High class and worked alongside Berri to define and execute the programme curriculum and supporting materials.

What's your vision for this programme?

As Berri would say, “Peace & bicycles for all!” That mantra aside, we work to enhance lives, create opportunities and build sustainable communities through bicycle education.

Simply put, we’d like to see more people riding bicycles, living well, and working in the bicycle industry. We hope to provide students with a “green career pathway” into the bicycle industry through Bike Shop at School. In addition to professional, hands-on instruction in bicycle assembly and repair, we also work to place students into internship opportunities with local industry, like Giro/Bell Helmets, Santa Cruz Bicycles, Fox Racing Shox and, of course, local bike shops.

We foresee this programme in high schools across the country, providing expert bicycle mechanics and industry folk the opportunity to mentor and teach youth about the various professional opportunities available to them within the bicycle industry. We're currently working to package our Bike Shop at School programme, complete with a Teacher’s Manual and Student Manual.

How easy would it be to launch a national programme? Do you foresee a pilot programme coming out of Santa Cruz someday?

Launching a national programme isn’t easy, but it’s a goal we’re striving towards. Demonstrating successful local expansion of Bike Shop at School is the first step to franchising the programme nationally. Beyond Santa Cruz, we’re laying the groundwork to strategically expand to San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, where we’ve received great interest in the programme and support from potential partners.

Who are your bike industry partners?

Of course Bicycle Trip has been our biggest supporter to date, but Park Tool Company and Giant Bicycles have also been great partners since the very beginning. They’ve graciously extended discounts and terms on the product we need to get the class rolling at each school.

Although now that we’re expanding and making plans to launch the programme nationally within the next five years, we need even more support from the industry. It’s expensive to set up the classrooms, with approximately US$15,000 in equipment and construction costs per school.

We're working to finalize our tax-exempt nonprofit status under Project Bike Trip, so we can receive support directly from industry partners and more successfully expand the programme. Support from individuals, the bicycle industry, the education sector, and the corporate sector is essential to our survival, especially during these hard times.

Right now, we’re truly a grassroots organisation, with few donors and resources, but lots of heart and soul. Berri, myself, and a handful of generous volunteers manage everything from classroom construction to fundraising and payroll. It’s a lot of work, but we love it.  

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