As dozens of students rang bicycle bells or coasted around Forestville Road Elementary School’s parking lot on training wheels Saturday morning, teacher assistant Otis Agnew patrolled to ensure his third annual bicycle rodeo was running smoothly.
Students offered him high-fives and fellow teachers teased him. But the event that hosted nearly 200 students, families and volunteers is just the beginning, he said.
During the event, participants’ bikes were checked by Trek Bicycle Store staff and helmets were adjusted for the proper size and fit. If a child’s helmet was the wrong size, volunteers supplied a new one for free.
After completing the check, the children rode in waves through eight checkpoints, learning a safety lesson at each point from Knightdale police officers, volunteers or a State Highway Patrol trooper. Students sat behind the wheel of a police car to gain the driver’s perspective.
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Many Wake County public schools run the Safety Patrol program, in which students help teachers and staff during release and monitor the halls.
Agnew’s program is unique, in part because of his bicycle rodeo, but also because students can rise in leadership positions as lieutenants or captains. His team participates in the Knightdale and Raleigh Christmas parades and assists with the bicycle rodeo.
Agnew, 59, has served at the school for the past six years as both teacher assistant and Safety Patrol coordinator, building the patrol from 50 students to nearly twice that this year.
He started the rodeo part of the patrol as an avid bike rider himself.
“I would ride around the neighborhood and see kids riding their bikes,” Agnew said. “But they wouldn’t have helmets and they would be free riding (not safely). Instead of complaining, I thought I’d address the issue.”
Balance, control and rules of the road are Agnew’s mantra. Last year, the event hosted more than 70 students and their families.
Despite the fact that her family had been encouraging her to ride on two wheels for two years, Brooklyn Stokes, 7, learned to ride without training wheels the night she heard about the rodeo, said her mother, Jessica Stokes. Brooklyn requested a new bike and helmet for her birthday.
After the check, the family discovered Brooklyn’s helmet was a size too large, and her new bike had improperly installed brakes and a too-tight chain.
“Otis is really dedicated,” Stokes said. “He puts a lot into (Safety Patrol). It’s really refreshing.”
Agnew has been recognized for his efforts in developing the bike rodeo. In February, the Knightdale Chamber of Commerce honored Agnew, a Wendell resident, with the town’s 2014 Bronze Knight Citizen of the Year award.
By partnering with Relay for Life, a regional competition that raises money for the American Cancer Society, the event also serves as a fundraiser. Next year, Agnew wants to raise money for an autism awareness program.
Agnew has not only mobilized families around the rodeo, but he quietly has had an influence on many individuals. In December, Agnew inspired several teachers to shave their heads in support of a co-worker in her battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
His service-minded spirit was on display during the rodeo. In the middle of the event, Agnew hopped into the driver’s seat of a bus he had rented to pick up a wheelchair-using fourth-grader who is a former “honorary” Safety Patrol member.
Ever the initiator, Agnew always seems to have more ideas tucked away. For next year – which started at 12:01 p.m. Saturday, he said – he is proposing a multi-school rodeo competition, where students compete in bicycle safety skills.
His current project is to find a company willing to partner with the Safety Patrol for a college scholarship fund for the students on the patrol.