With big brown eyes and a beaming smile, 7-year-old Amarian Howard is quick to explain what happened to his bicycle.
Somebody stole it, he said.
But, more than two weeks before Christmas, the second-grader wheeled a new bicycle out of Northside Elementary School on Friday. Amarian was one of 30 students who received free bikes from Academy Sports + Outdoors in Warner Robins.
Its part of our give-back to the community, said Thomas Stubbs, store director. Christmas is a time for kids, and we are a sports company. So, we thought this was the best way to give back to the kids.
The store plans to host a giveaway each year, probably around Christmas. Academy reached out to Northside Elementary and school administrators jumped at the opportunity.
We were just excited, Principal Jodi Clark said. We try to help some of our families during the holidays anyway, and its great to have a partner in the community.
Teachers informed students of the giveaway in October, telling them that if they followed the school rule -- be respectful -- they would be in the drawing for a new bike. Teachers and administrators used the bicycle donations to encourage students to practice good behavior.
Its not the biggest thing that impacts their learning ... but its a really big key, Clark said about student behavior. The bike giveaway will be a good visual of how they need to be good citizens everywhere.
The bikes were given to students in second through fifth grades because the type of bicycles were suited for those ages. Around 9 a.m., students filed into the gymnasium, gasping and dropping their jaws when they spotted the line of blue and purple bicycles, complete with helmets.
Administrators stood in front of about 300 students, drawing names out of a large Santa bag. Before she read the first name, Clark announced that it was a third-grader, and dozens of students yelped. She narrowed the field to one teachers class, and then called the students name to screeching cheers.
Standing on the sidelines, teachers jumped and squealed almost as loudly as their students. Some even wiped away tears as their students sprinted toward their news bicycles.
I think were more excited than the kids are because we know up front what these kids struggle with, and all these teachers love their kids so much, said Marla Garnto, a music teacher.
Northside Elementary is a Title I school, meaning it has a high number of children from low-income families. About 76 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals.
This will be the biggest thing that happens to them -- even more than Christmas, Garnto said.
Eight-year-old Keleigh Shurley pumped both fists into the air when her name was called. Minutes later, the third-grader was still excited, jumping and clasping her hand over her mouth as she stood next to her new bicycle.
Oh my god, I won a bike, she squealed. Its kind of like an early Christmas present.
When Amarians name was called, the small boy calmly stood up and strutted toward his bicycle, flashing a wide grin and giving his principal a hug.
He has been extra good over the past couple of months and completed all of his assignments. So, the 7-year-old wasnt surprised when Clark called his name, he said. When they called my name, I felt excited and wonderful, he said, and happy for myself.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.