Naperville schools sending a dozen bikes to Africa

Marc O’Shea’s knees are aching and he’s had a mild case of dehydration but he’ll keep going another 500 miles for a good cause.

O’Shea, Naperville Central High School’s instructional coordinator for academic support, and physical education teacher Neil Duncan pedalled slightly more than 400 miles en route to matching the $912 raised by Central students to assist World Bicycle Relief’s efforts in Zambia, Africa.

That $912, when added to the $705 donated by Naperville North students, will send 12 bicycles to students in Zambia in the coming months.

Students in the Academic Reading and Learning Readiness Physical Education (LRPE) programs came up with the fundraising plan to get their teachers on bikes.

O’Shea said students in the LRPE program, which pairs physical exercise with academic studies, were riding one-mile time trials in P.E. and talking about cycling and the role of the bicycle in America in the early 1900s.

Meanwhile, the academic reading students have been studying the life and work of Marshall “Major” Taylor, a young African-American bicyclist who overcame the bitter racism of his day to become a world champion athlete.

As the bicycle’s status as a prized possession began to sink in with students, O’Shea said, it wasn’t long before they decided to do something.

“We are very pleasantly pleased with the success we’ve achieved because we thought a goal of sending one bicycle at $134 was a good goal when this all started,” O’Shea said during a riding break Wednesday afternoon. “But our students responded incredibly so Duncan and I will continue riding and continue updating them on our progress. But in the meantime, they’re sending 12 bicycles to help children in Africa.”

World Bicycle Relief spokesman Matt Pierce said the organization, which has just placed its 100,000th bicycle in Africa, is “extremely impressed with the entire school’s efforts and hopes to partner with them again.

“These teachers and students have worked together to combine learning, fun and social change all into one activity in a very creative way,” Pierce said. “Taking their initial efforts and growing that into an annual event would be huge for us and would definitely set a great example for other students.”

For students in Africa, Pierce said, a bicycle can be a difference between a chance at getting an education, health care and the opportunity to make a living.

“These 12 bicycles will impact an entire community,” he said. “That is no small feat.”

O’Shea said he definitely intends to partner with World Bicycle Relief and work the program into the curriculum again next year. But he’s going to recruit more help.

“I’ll need to find more teachers willing to step up and ride some of these miles so Duncan and I take less abuse,” he said. “That could be a challenge in itself.”

  Teachers Neil Duncan, left and Marc O’Shea, right, have 400 miles down and 500 to go to seal their pledge to ride one mile for every dollar donated to World Bicycle Relief by Naperville Central students. Bev Horne/
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