By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Within minutes of excitedly picking out his brand-new red bicycle, 10-year-old Petros Atsas, a fifth-grader at Campbell Elementary School, already had his first fall, accidentally knocking it over onto a carpeted patch of the cafeteria.
He shot a quick look at his father, Phillip Atsas, who simply shook his head and chuckled.
“At least it was without you,” said Phillip, a physical education teacher at the elementary school, who added that Petros had been long awaiting the day he’d receive his new bicycle.
Friday was that day.
Starting at 3:15 p.m., Petros, along with 53 other fifth-graders, could reap the tangible — and mobile — results of their hard work over the past year. They finally could pick up their new bicycles — which were available in red for boys, purple for girls, and orange for both — as a reward for passing the reading and math portions of the Ohio Achievement Assessments as fourth-graders.
Robert Walls, principal of Campbell Elementary School, said this year is the eighth for the program, which began when he wanted to find a way to recognize the district’s fourth-graders for their performance on the standardized tests. The tests are administered each spring, while the results are released in June.
“I wondered, ‘What could I give them that they would, No. 1, go for, and, No. 2, use on an everyday basis?’” Walls said.
He then realized that a lot of children in Campbell didn’t have bicycles, and he recruited the help of the Campbell Ecumenical Council, which represents every church in the city. Ever since then, the council has raised the money — usually between $3,000 and $5,000 per year — to purchase bicycles, Walls said.
This year’s class is a bit smaller than in past years, he added, explaining that the council usually funds around 62 to 68 bicycles, which are dispersed at the start of the school year. In addition, they’re typically displayed on the cafeteria stage for a few days beforehand, just to stir up interest.
Tony Labrie, the council treasurer, said raising the money to buy the bicycles involves numerous organizations and individuals, including those from outside of the city. Everyone from doctors to churches, to city administrators to police officers, helps out with the program, Labrie added, explaining that many who donate believe it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
Though this academic year is Walls’ last as principal of Campbell Elementary, he said he’s been working to ensure the bicycle-giveaway program continues after he retires. Both his replacement and members of the council already have given their word, he added.
And as Petros guarded his bicycle, his father added that all three of his children — ages 10, 12 and 13 — have received bicycles through the program. He’s hopeful that many more of the district’s children will continue to receive new bikes for their hard work in the coming years.
“I just think the program is awesome,” Phillip said.