Fifth-grader Abril Martinez earned her first bicycle by coming to class every day at Westcliff Elementary. Martinez is one of nearly 21 kids at the school who have benefited from a program that rewards students for perfect attendance.
The idea for “Wheels for Westcliff” began with Cathy Cushman, a former president of the Westcliff Parent Teacher Association.
Cushman remembers riding her bike everywhere as a kid.
“I used to put my feet on the handlebars, and you know you’d clip the cards…to the spokes, and you’d go clickety-clack, clickety-clack,” she said.
Initially, Cushman said she planned to raise money and give bikes away as Christmas gifts. She proposed her idea to Gillaspie in the summer, who recommended they link the bike giveaway to attendance.
“We have actually had it in our campus improvement plan to target improvement for our attendance rate, and it was something we needed to see improvement in,” Gillaspie said.
With a goal in place, Cushman wrote a letter asking former and current parents, Westcliff members and neighborhood residents if they would be willing to donate to pay for one bicycle and a helmet.
The response, Gillaspie said, was inspiring, “to see how people that are not really connected with us anymore but were in the past have such a heart to give.”
Cushman said she runs all the donations through the Westcliff PTA.
She and a friend buy the bikes and helmets with the money raised, load them up in her husband’s pickup and bring them to the school.
Every Friday, students receive gold stickers acknowledging their perfect attendance, Cushman said.
At the end of six weeks, Gillaspie lines up seven bikes on the stage in an assembly and calls out the names of seven children who have been selected from those with perfect attendance.
“The kids go wild,” Gillaspie said. “You can hear cheering coming from different hallways when we call the names out.”
Fifth-grader Martinez said she was surprised when she heard her name.
“I have never gotten a bike, so I was so happy,” she said.
Now, she rides her bike every day.
“I do my homework, and I go to ride my bike in the park,” she said.
Students like Martinez reaffirm Cushman’s calling to give back to a school where her own children attended back in the 1980s, Cushman said.
“This is an economically disadvantaged school, so the kids—there’s a big need,” she said.
But Cushman said the school rewards all students with perfect attendance, not just those who didn’t already have bikes.
“Who wouldn’t want a brand new bike?” she said.
Second-grader Vivica Lopez said her parents were proud of her when she received her new bike, which replaced two she had before: the first she gave to her sister, and the second was lost.
Third-grader Makayla Ford’s old bike had a flat tire. Now, she can ride up and down her street on her new purple bike, she said.
Fifth-grader Itzel Lopez said she can race her brothers better on her bike now than she ever could on foot.
When her parents learned she received a bike, Lopez said, “They were happy for me, and they said, ‘We’re proud of you.’”
Seeing students take pride in their perfect attendance is rewarding for the teachers, too, Gillaspie said.
“We’ve even had teachers come down in tears of joy to share that moment with their students,” she said.
Gillaspie said she’s invited Cushman and her husband to come watch them give the bikes away.
“I love being able to share with the children the story of how Mrs. Cushman just wanted to give bikes away and how this whole idea has come about,” Gillaspie said. “The children just break out into applause when I tell them, and Mrs. Cushman stands up.”
Gillaspie said she’s grateful for the 21 bikes Cushman’s partnership with the school has brought already.
“I never dreamed it would be that many,” Gillaspie said.