P.S. 14’s power may officially come from Con Edison, but its head custodian has been energizing the school since he first started working there over 30 years ago.
In what may be his most notable act during his tenure at P.S. 14, J.B. LaPuppet has been running an end-of-the year annual bike giveaway for graduating students who win a wide range of contests.
The contests, which took place for the ninth consecutive year on Tuesday, June 14, have become a rite of passage for the school’s sixth graders. Students are awarded bikes based on winning a series of contests held at the school.
The number of bikes and contests varies form year to year, and 13 were given out this year. For the more academics-oriented students, some are given away based on performance in class, but for the gamers there are chess and checkers tournaments, and for the athletes there are races.
LaPuppet calls himself the “fireman,” of the school because he “takes care of everything.” Aside from his full-time job at P.S. 14, which he has held for 39 years, LaPuppet is also a nationally-recognized martial arts teacher.
A youthful looking 60-year-old, he is short, but solidly built, with a pair of sunglasses constantly covering his eyes or sitting atop his shaved head. He has the boundless energy required of anyone who maintains a school by day and teaches black belts at night.
LaPuppet uses the same techniques in running the bike giveaway that he does managing his own students.
“It’s the same thing, same procedures, and that’s why it’s so easy,” said LaPuppet, who uses the bikes as a tool to get students to maximize their own skills, whether its test taking or foot speed. “Education has to be the key. Everywhere else they raffle off bikes. I want to give it to you because of your talents.”
LaPuppet had the idea for the bike giveaway less than 15 days after the attacks of September 11, 2001. He was discussing possible ways to give P.S. 14 students a more positive mindset, with then-principal Susan Mendoza.
The giveaway is still called JayBee’s Ride For Success. Bicycles are donated by a wide range of sources, including Councilman Jimmy Vacca, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto and Senator Jeff Klein. Area firefighters have donated, as have P.S. 14 faculty members.
“He finds the donors,” said P.S. 14 assistant principal Elizabeth Falzone. “He goes out and he networks with people.”