Getting a chopper education

CHELSEA &8212; Four 13-year-olds stand around a custom-built chopper wearing grey mechanic shirts and wide grins.

&8220;Fuel&8217;s on. What&8217;s next?&8221; VC Tech instructor Mark Prosser asks the group of Chelsea Middle School students. They rattle off steps of starting the 700-pound motorcycle until, finally, one of them pushes a button and a thunderous rumble roars out.

Through a new program at Chelsea Middle, and with help from VC Tech in Pelham, the students have spent the past three months learning and applying bike basics.

&8220;We basically started from scratch,&8221; Prosser said. &8220;We basically got a box of parts, the motor and the frame.&8221;

Students worked two days a week after school and about one Saturday a month to complete the bike.

&8220;It took a long time, but it&8217;s worth it at the end,&8221; said upcoming eighth-grader Rodney Swiney.

When asked what his favorite part of the project was, his face brightened as he said, &8220;Startin&8217; it up. I like loud stuff.&8221;

Shop teacher Brian Copes started the project in conjunction with Shop Rats, a Michigan-based educational group that worries the skilled craftsman is a dying profession.

Copes said &8220;thousands of skilled laborers [are] retiring each year, and we just don&8217;t have enough skilled labor force to replace the ones that are retiring.&8221;

The bike build shows young students that &8220;getting dirty, working with your hands, is a good thing,&8221; he said. &8220;It&8217;s fun. It&8217;s a viable career.&8221;

As a final piece of the program, the Chelsea team traveled to Michigan over the weekend to compete against a middle school team there.

Top bike-builders served as judges, scoring the bikes as well as asking a few questions about basic tool and motorcycle knowledge.

Copes said the judges were so impressed by both teams&8217; efforts they declared the competition a draw, cut the trophy in half and sent each team home with a share