Teens get confidence, free bike in program Four from Howard in six-day event along Eastern Shore

July 20, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Wilde Lake High School officials hope a six-day bicycle tour of the Eastern Shore will expose four Howard County students to the state -- and to their potential.

The students are Howard County's first participants in Cycle Across Maryland's sixth annual Teen Challenge Program, which pairs students with mentors to prepare for the six-day, 300-mile tour that begins Friday.

The goal is to increase the students' self-esteem and teach them commitment, said Pat Bernstein, the tour's executive director and founder. School officials hope those lessons will help the students in the classroom. Students hope they get a free bicycle, a reward for completing training and the tour.

"It's an experience beyond what these kids have had," said Sue Bullock, a counselor at Wilde Lake.

Kemi Okiji, 14, of Wilde Lake is getting more from the experience than she expected.

"I run track and I wanted to be fit," she said. "I'm learning how to get along with people other than my friends."

Bullock is Howard County coordinator of Maryland's Tomorrow, a program that pushes students to achieve. Counselors select participants in the program for the teen challenge. Boys and girls from age 14 to 18 are eligible.

"Students who are recommended are those that would respond to extra attention," said Marty Soveroski, Teen Challenge director for Howard County and Anne Arundel County, which also has four students among the 60 selected for the Teen Challenge.

The number includes nine youths from Carroll County, 10 from Baltimore and Baltimore County, nine from Harford and Cecil counties and 12 from Montgomery County.

Trained for 13 weeks

The Howard and Arundel students were required to train every Saturday for 13 weeks, beginning with a 10-mile ride and gradually working up to longer distances under Soveroski's direction.

All of the students' expenses -- about $1,200 -- are paid by the nonprofit Teen Challenge Program and private funding, Bernstein said.

The students will have plenty of company on the tour, as about 1,500 people will participate in this year's Carrollton Bank Cycle Across Maryland rally, which finishes July 29 at Sandy Point State Park in Anne Arundel County. The 10th annual tour will traverse the Eastern Shore, including stops in Assateague Island, Chestertown and Centreville.

Officials believe completing the tour is a major achievement for the students.

"To take on this challenge and stick with it will help them in their personal life and in school," said Howard County School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, a cyclist who rode with the students several weeks ago.

Finding motivation

The program's success depends largely on what has turned out to be a fickle commodity -- the students' motivation. Despite the reward of a bicycle, between 40 percent and 50 percent of students who start the program drop out for a variety of reasons -- injuries, work commitments or a loss of interest, Bernstein said.

Six students from Howard and seven from Arundel were tapped, but the group is down to eight.

Officials said they are trying to find ways to encourage students, who come with their own reasons for participating. "You have to work with what their motivation is," Soveroski said.

Some students are interested because they like biking. Others because they need a new bike.

"My old bike was completely trashed," said Justin Greene, 17, a student at Meade Senior High School in Anne Arundel who participated last year and is taking part again. "I was already really into bike riding."

After finishing last year, Justin said he felt "relief and accomplishment."

Pub Date: 7/20/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.