Off to the races: NASCAR partnership donates bikes to Chicago kindergartners

Piccolo School of Excellence in Humboldt Park is one of eight Chicago public schools receiving 24 Strider training bikes and helmets, plus online support to help the schools teach their kindergartners how to ride.

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The kindergarten class at Piccolo School of Excellence rides bikes donated to their school on Tuesday.

The kindergarten class at Piccolo School of Excellence rides bikes donated to their school on Tuesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Dushuntae Palmore’s kindergarten students chanted his name as he took a lap around the Piccolo School of Excellence gymnasium on a Strider training bike on Tuesday.

Students then lined up behind him on kid-sized bikes to give it a go themselves.

Palmore is a teaching assistant at Piccolo in Humboldt Park, one of eight CPS schools receiving 24 Strider training bikes and helmets, plus online support to help the schools teach their kindergartners how to ride.

This donation came from a partnership between All Kids Bike and The NASCAR Foundation ahead of the first-annual Chicago Street Race this July. The event, taking place on streets in and around Grant Park in July, is NASCAR’s first street race.

Dushuntae Palmore, a teaching assistant at Piccolo School of Excellence, leads kindergarten students as they try out their new Strider training bikes in their school gymnasium on Tuesday, April 25, 2023.

Dushuntae Palmore, a teaching assistant at Piccolo School of Excellence, leads kindergarten students as they try out their new Strider training bikes in their school gymnasium on Tuesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Strider primarily sells children’s training bikes, which help kids “balance, stride, glide and then pedal,” said project manager Lauren Tadlock. These bikes have detachable pedals and foot rests. All Kids Bike is part of Strider’s non-profit arm.

The bikes were a surprise to the kindergartners, said Piccolo principal Heather Pusatcioglu. They were hidden behind a makeshift partition of gym mats, and when they were revealed, students erupted in cheers.

The NASCAR Foundation committed $48,000 to this partnership, according to foundation news release. The program focuses on schools that need it, said Julie Giese, the president of the Chicago Street Race.

Giese said giving back to the Chicago community is “incredibly important” to NASCAR. She added, “We’re committed to being a member of this community.”

This is the second time the foundation has partnered with All Kids Bike, said executive director Nichole Krieger. The organizations provided bikes to 50 public schools in Los Angeles, where NASCAR hosts the annual Busch Light Clash race.

Kindergarteners at Piccolo School of Excellence cheered and waved flags for NASCAR’s upcoming Chicago race on Tuesday.

Kindergarteners at Piccolo School of Excellence cheered and waved flags for NASCAR’s upcoming Chicago race on Tuesday. Two dozen training bikes were donated to their school to use in physical education class.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Pusatcioglu said this program is addressing an “equity issue.”

“In better resourced neighborhoods, (this program) wouldn’t be necessary, but in historically marginalized communities like ours, the school has a responsibility to provide those resources for its students,” Pusatcioglu said.

Hugo Rodriguez, the at-risk youth coordinator at Piccolo, said this program gives students an opportunity for “self-affirmation” and “independence.”

Krieger said seeing the kindergartners’ reaction to the new bikes is the “best part” of her job. She added that giving back to the cities where NASCAR holds races is an important goal of the foundation.

Harrison Burton, who will drive in the Chicago NASCAR race, was at Piccolo, at 1040 N. Keeler Ave., to help unveil the bikes.

“Anything with wheels, I love, so it’s cool to see kids enjoy that,” said Burton, 22.

Burton said he started racing cars when he was 5 years old, around the age of the kindergartners at Piccolo receiving bikes, which he called a “full circle moment.”

He added, although teaching kids to bike is different from teaching them to race cars, he hopes this program will help bring more kids into the world of NASCAR.

NASCAR driver Harrison Brian Burton bikes along with the kindergarten class at Piccolo Elementary at 1040 N. Keeler Ave in Humboldt Park, Tuesday, April 25, 2023. The Piccolo kindergarten class was gifted bikes to learn how to bike during their P.E. class. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

NASCAR driver Harrison Burton helped present a fleet of two dozen training bikes that were donated Tuesday to Piccolo School of Excellence in Humboldt Park. Burton will compete in Chicago’s inaugural NASCAR race, being held along the lakefront in July.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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