WATSONVILLE — Twice a week, students at Sequoia Schools gather in a classroom that has been transformed into a bike shop, learning the ins and outs of bicycle mechanics while also being exposed to career opportunities.
The 10-year-old Project Bike Tech, which got its start at The Bicycle Trip in Santa Cruz and has since spread throughout the state, even nationwide, is just entering its second year at the recently-opened Sequoia Schools on Green Valley Road in Watsonville.
The school also recently celebrated its first student who earned a certificate of achievement in the one-year course.
Jaime Orozco said he enjoys building things, and quickly got over the intimidation he felt during the first day of class and seeing the numerous kinds of tools neatly organized throughout the classroom.
“At first, it seems pretty hard, but it gets easier,” he said.
Instructor Lorenzo Holguin said Orozco served as an “ambassador” in the class, even helping the instructor himself.
“He is one of the top students,” Holguin said.
Orozco, who is returning to the class to earn the next level of certification, said he wants to take his newfound skills and help younger children repair their bicycles.
The course is designed to prepare students for entry-level positions in the bicycle industry such as technicians, mechanics and sales. As such, they learn bicycle terminology as well as units of measurement and the many different types of tools, and they even have the opportunity to build a bike from the ground up.
It also exposes them to small business skills, and teaches them how to run a shop.
Holguin said teaching young people how to ride and care for a bike is an important step in combatting the rising number of fossil fuel-burning vehicles on the road, calling it a “protest” against greenhouse gases.
“Every time you get on a bike, it helps the planet,” he said.
Project Bike Tech founder Berri Michel, co-owner of The Bicycle Trip on 1001 Soquel Ave. in Santa Cruz, started the grassroots program with a small group in the store 10 years ago.
The program is now part of the Regional Occupational Program, which provides career and technical training for students, and estimates it introduced more than 3,000 students to career opportunities in the bicycle industry since its inception.
Mark Hodges, director of ROP for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, said having the support of industry giants such as Fox Racing Shox and Shimano is crucial for the program’s success. It’s also a way for those companies to train their future workforce, he added.
“It’s really important for us to have industry support,” Hodges said. “I can’t emphasis that enough.”
For information, visit projectbiketech.org.