By Krista Torralva, Staff Writer, San Antonio Express News, May 15, 2018
Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News
SAPD Bike Patrol Officer Steve Bazany (right) works with Paul Perez on bicycle brakes as Edgewood ISD and San Antonio police partnership to teach special needs students how to rebuild and repair a bicycle.
Paul Perez hunched forward over his bicycle Tuesdy and concentrated on threading a thin wire through a chain to an assembly in the back of the bike that will allow him to change gears when he rides.
“You’re doing great. Good job,” said San Antonio Police Officer Ian Garcia as he watched, guiding Perez during a class at Edgewood Independent School District’s Burleson Center for Innovation and Education.
Perez, a special needs student at Edgewood, found the tiny hole through which he could pull the cable.
“There you go,” Garcia said.
Perez, 20, relaxed his shoulders and tightened a screw to finish that part of the job.
He is one of three men in a new course offered to students with disabilities, ages 18-21, to get training on bicycle mechanics with officers from the SAPD bike patrol unit. The top goal is to help students get a job after they complete it, program coordinator Olga Moucoulis said.
Realistically, not all students will have the mechanical skills or physical dexterity to become a bike mechanic, said Officer Steven Bazany of the bike patrol unit. But officers strive to give those students independence, so they won’t have to rely on others.
“We’re hoping that it brings some meaning to their life,” Bazany said.
It also pairs students with officers like Garcia, who wore his service weapon, taser and cuffs along with an apron to keep the grease off. The officers gain better understanding of people with intellectual disabilities, while the students come to see police as more than just authority figures who make arrests, Bazany said.
The students look forward to Tuesday afternoons when the officers are there, Moucoulis said. They joke with the police and each other.
Bazany asked Justin Avila to show him a flat-head screwdriver. Avila, who is mute, pointed to classmate Robert Garcia — who responded by jokingly placing Avila in a chokehold. The two hugged it out seconds later.
“You’re the funniest person I know who doesn’t speak,” Bazany told Avila, who beamed.
The program is the brainchild of Moucoulis, whose father retired from the police department. She reached out to SAPD officials in early March and the officers jumped at the chance to help, a department spokesman, Officer Carlos Ortiz, said.
Now, the officers and center’s administrators want to grow the program, at least within Edgewood ISD, whose special needs student population is about 8.8 percent of total enrollment, district spokeswoman Keyhla Calderon-Lugo said.
“If this is the one and only class and I just got three new friends, then that’s worth it too,” Bazany said.