Thursday, August 30, 2012

From Our Education Dept: Empowering Students to Improve Their Communities

For the past two summers, the Bicycle Coalition has been proud to partner with Boat People SOS – a national Vietnamese-American community organization with a thriving Delaware Valley branch – for their Summer Youth Bike and Environmental Program (SYBEP). The program, designed to educate and empower youth around issues of environmental justice, was a tremendous success this year! Minh Nguyen from the Asian Youth Empowerment Project developed the six-week program, which involved 25 youth, four program coordinators, the Bicycle Coalition, and Neighborhood Bike Works.

The youth, whose backgrounds spanned a variety of cultures, languages, and neighborhoods, learned about environmental justice issues, explored the city on bike expeditions led by Bicycle Coalition staff, learned bike maintenance from Neighborhood Bike Works’ Joseph Tirella, and developed their own community projects about biking, community gardens, and pollution. SYBEP students worked with the Bicycle Coalition to teach our summer Learn-to-Ride classes, where dozens of Philly youth learned to ride a bike! Their hard work even secured them first place at the Philadelphia Youth Network’s Expo in the “Saving the Environment/Going Green” category.

On Friday, August 17th, the SYBEP youth had a graduation ceremony in Mifflin Square Park. Amidst a festive atmosphere of food, karaoke, face-painting, and lots of bicycles, here’s what a few of them had to say about their experiences with SYBEP and the BCGP:

“I wasn’t really a fan of bike riding before this summer, but I think after this program I’m going to go on more bike rides….Working with the BCGP was a different experience for me. Definitely at first we were the students, and then after that we taught other people, so I think that experience – having two perspectives – was really great.” - Judy, 17-year old student at Central High School
“I love SYBEP. I don’t want to leave it! My favorite part is visiting everywhere in the city I never had a chance to visit, and [making] new friends – this is like my second family, and I love it. I bicycle a lot – I go to the market to buy some food, and I bike to go to my school nearly every day…biking is good!” -  Phat, 17-year old student at South Philadelphia High
SYBEP students celebrating their accomplishments 

Director Minh Nguyen described a particularly memorable moment of the program, on a Bicycle-Coalition-led group ride to the top of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge: “While we were standing up there, on the top of the bridge, overlooking the beauty and elegance of our city, we felt appreciation and admiration for Philadelphia.” However, this moment was informed by an understanding that much work remains to be done to make Philly a more environmentally equitable place to live. If anyone can do it, it’s the empowered and determined youth of BPSOS-SYBEP.

Check out the SYBEP students' documentaries about Bike Equity in Philadelphia, Community Gardens and Land Use, and Pollution and Environmental Justice. Great work, SYBEP students and leaders! The Bicycle Coalition is honored to have taken part in this program.

See more photos of BPSOS SYBEP 2012 in our Flickr album.