We have shared several stories on what the Outride program has been up to over the past couple of years, and this one is particularly touching. This summer, Outride funding will help the students and staff at AIM Academy in Conshohocken PA, a northern suburb of Philadelphia, open a new bike repair and education hub called Sam’s Place. AIM is a private school focused on supporting students with learning differences including dyslexia, anxiety, and ADHD.
Among their many innovative programs, AIM has a Riding for Focus class where students get to go for a mountain bike ride to fulfill their physical-education requirements, spinning up a healthy attitude first thing in the morning. The school also hosts a NICA team, led by local cycling enthusiast and English teacher Anne Rock. In addition to leading these two MTB activity groups, Rock has worked with the local community and a handful of partners from the bike industry to create a bicycle repair training program at the school’s new bike hub called Sam’s Place.
Sam’s Place was named to commemorate 17-year-old recent AIM graduate Samuel Ozer who died after being struck by a driver on his commute home from working at a Trek store. Sam was the co-captain of the school’s NICA team and was heavily involved in the local cycling culture. He focused on engineering throughout high school and hoped to continue within the bike world after attending one of the many universities that had accepted him.
Immediately following Sam’s death, his parents, AIM Academy co-founders and Anne Rock started discussing ways to create a lasting memorial to Sam at AIM. Since that time, close to 700 individuals and organizations have contributed to the Sam Ozer Fund and the creation of Sam’s Place. This includes a generous matching grant from Outride as well as a unique partnership with Trek which is funding the interior design and equipment for the new bicycle learning center.
Trek’s involvement wasn’t a marketing play by any means. Sam was working as a bike tech at Trek’s Manayunk, PA store at the time of his death and the team felt strongly about contributing to a memorial to Sam that also supports the school’s efforts to get more kids on bikes, no matter whose bikes those are.
Rock says that AIM received a wave of support and volunteer offers from parents and the larger Pennsylvania cycling community, and that collective energy has led to the opening of Sam’s Place in the summer of 2021. At the outset, the new bike studio will provide a training ground for students to learn how to wrench on bikes and how to write resumes for jobs in the industry. Kids in the program will also attend career-day-style trips to local bike shops, distribution centers, and frame fabricators to get an idea of the opportunities bikes can provide in addition to fun rides.
AIM Academy has been running an Outride program for sixth and seventh graders for the past five years, and Rock says that it’s helping students focus and feel better throughout their day. She added, “I have yet to see someone less happy after a ride than they were before.” The riders have access to the nearby Schuylkill River Trail that continues on for miles along the waterway, and Rock says that some of the state’s best mountain bike trails are within a short climb from the school.
Students are currently pedaling aboard a fleet of Specialized Rockhopper hardtails that belong to the AIM, or on a bike of their own. There are plans to create a system where the kids can work to earn a bike, and donations of funds and bikes are always welcome.
The AIM Academy NICA program is entirely comprised of students from the school, where most similar teams are composite programs with riders from several different schools coming together. The fact that these kids already know one another might help them bond more quickly, potentially better supporting one another in their athletic and skill-building endeavors.
Rock says that all of the programs are driven by fun, enjoyment, and stress release on the bike, instead of being rooted in results or performance. While the kids are plenty competitive by nature, the Outride, NICA, and Sam’s Place activities are designed to foster life learning skills first.
All of the AIM cyclists have these thoughtful steerer caps to commemorate their former classmate.