University City

Students at James Martin Middle School in Charlotte build milk-carton bicycle for competition

The bicycle that leans against the tree inside the front entrance of James Martin Middle School won’t pedal, but that doesn’t mean it can’t take the kids who built it on a ride.

Made from more than 1,500 school lunch milk cartons, the bike and the leafy green tree it rests against is the school’s entry in the Made by Milk Carton Construction Contest.

The national design competition among elementary, middle and high school students is intended to promote the milk, carton recycling and the benefits of teamwork.

If the JMMS students’ entry wins, they could be awarded the grand prize, $5,000 to use for school or community projects.

They’re also eligible for the $1,500 prize in the middle school category and a $2,500 “people’s choice” prize for the entry with the most online votes.

The project was the collaborative handiwork of the middle school’s eighth grade Leadership and Art classes. Leadership class students from Vance High School down the road provided mentoring.

This year’s theme was transportation. Eligible entries had to be made of at least 100 recycled milk cartons, and no more than 20 percent of it could be other materials. Renewable resources, such as newspaper or cardboard, were encouraged for the support materials.

“We thought we should do something that doesn’t leave any carbon footprint,” said eighth grade art teacher Jamie Rohde, who offered her old-school bike as a model.

Each day after lunch, the classes would collect milk cartons from the cafeteria. Most of were them chocolate, they noticed. They rinsed them clean (except for the one Friday they forgot, only to return on Monday to a lingering sour funk in the art room) and stored them until they had enough.

Each tire took 30 cartons. The basket, woven with strips of cut-up cartons, took around 50. The kickstand was made of about a dozen.

The project was a mix of critical thinking and creativity.

“I made a little model out of wire first,” said Gabriel Velos, 15, who worked on the bike’s design.

“It took 13 cans of spray paint,” said Christopher Scott, 14, who created the color scheme, which he described as a purple haze with a soft shadow of black.

“They’re very passionate about this project, and they really worked well together,” said Leadership teacher Jennifer Campbell, a co-adviser for the project along with Rohde, and MGR Foundation Program Director Kelly Merkl, who works with Leadership classes at both Martin Middle and Vance High School. MGR Foundation is a national nonprofit organization that creates innovative programs for communities in need.

Leadership classes at the middle school began a few years ago, said Campbell. They help prepare students for the real world.

“We’re teaching them how to be productive citizens, productive leaders, learning how to work with their peers and tapping into the talent that they have and don’t know they have,” she said.

If they win, the students plan to host a go-green fair, with environmental games and bicycle-powered music.

“They’ll pedal a bike to make the music go,” said Merkl, who has already begun research for the idea and has enlisted the help of the high school’s engineering-minded students. “The kids are really committed to doing it.”