What is a pump track? I asked the same question when approached by a student for his personal project. In the Middle Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate, students in their fifth year (Grade 10) are required to complete a Personal Project. Students complete a year-long project about something they are passionate about, which can range from making a guitar, writing a play, learning how to code and making a app, planning and executing an overnight hiking trip, etc. It is the culmination of their time in the MYP and is an independent project outside of their school work. They select a supervisor at school to help them and many use their parents or other community members, especially experts in the field they are interested in to help them.
Rafael is young man who spends much of his weekend riding mountain bicycles. He competes in extreme downhill events and belongs to a BMX (bicycle motocross) club. His goal was to build a “pump track” at our school and introduce the sport to other students. A pump track is a dirt circuit with bumps, berms, and jumps that allows students to learn how to ride on rugged terrain. At first I was skeptical like any administrator, worried about student safety and school liability, but as I learned more and saw how committed Rafael was to doing this, I decided to support him and make it happen. We had to go through a lot of convincing, and he made a presentation to the school administration team. After clearing with the school insurance, he got permission to go ahead and design and build a pump track on our campus.
He spent a week constructing it with friends, with the school supplying dirt and tools. This weekend he held two sessions, one for middle school students and another for lower school students. It was one of the most rewarding projects I have seen in my educational career. The boys absolutely loved it and it was good to see how physical challenges really engaged them. Rafael was very patient with the younger students and I noticed how they really looked up to him. I even got into the spirit of the day and rode the course myself. I am an avid cyclist, but only on road cycles, but I experienced the appeal of off-road cycling. It is a great workout and fun! The pump track was another way to “hook” kids into school and I have developed a closer relationship with them.
Rafael’s project was a great example of what is best about the personal project. He learned much about how to get a project from the idea, through a bunch of obstacles to completion. It took a lot of planning and working through school channels to get it done. Rafael learned how to work the system. It also brought the community together and allowed a student to demonstrate leadership ability that would not normally be seen in a school setting. It also made me realize the importance of facilitating students to “discover their passion” and how educational leaders sometimes need to take calculated risks. I am glad we went through with it and the experience of being a personal project supervisor, ended up being one of the most rewarding of my career.