Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It started as a small outlet for a few students at Dr. John C. Wickwire in Liverpool, but it's grown into a school-wide passion.
Staff members of the Queens County elementary school, including Chris Kaulback, Isaac Rafuse and Adam Leuschner, introduced the sport of skateboarding three years ago to a select group of students as a way for them to burn off a bit of stress and get ready for the day.
"Students that I work with generally would be labelled as having behavioural challenges and they may struggle within the core confines of the walls of the classroom," said Kaulback, who works in the school's Connect Centre. Skateboarding is giving the students a "sense of belonging, the sense of community and really giving them that opportunity to see that they can excel in other parts of the school. It doesn't have to be just academics," he added.
The students skateboarded in the gym in the mornings, and at other times periodically during the week.
"It's been a huge success for my kids," said Kaulback, noting that it gives the students experiential-based learning opportunities.
Soon, other students began asking to join in, prompting the instructors to launch a noon-hour club. The interest was such that skateboarding now has become part of the physical education curriculum.
The program follows the Making Tracks - Skate Pass Training, which was developed by Halifax's Ecology Action Center, and skateboarding guidelines within the Nova Scotia physical education curriculum.
According to Leuschner, the program has given them new opportunities as educators.
"There is a lot of research surrounding skateboarding and its ability to regulate students and help them find their calm," he said. "We tell kids to calm down, but at the elementary level they don't know what it feels like. We are trying to support them in understanding how your body feels when you're actually in a calm state and skateboarding is a real good tool to do that."
Grade 5 student Devilyn Moore agreed. "It feels relaxing and fun and we get to socialize," he said.
Currently, the program is only open to students in Grades 3 to 5 because of safety regulations. However, the teachers are working on plans to introduce the younger students to the activity as well.
Leuschner suggested that while students have played a lot of intramural games, and been a part of different programs, the skateboard program stands out.
"It's really quite something. When you walk into the gym when the skate program is going on, you really see a lot of pro-social behaviour," he said. "You see a lot of smiles, a lot of kids joking about and you see kids helping each other out."
The school's program has received support from companies and groups across Canada, including Landyachtz in Vancouver, Surf Ontario and Rollin Boardshop in Montreal.
"They have given us a lot of great deals. They know how important a program like this is for the youth," said Rafuse. "With the support we've had, we've been able to really push the program as far as we could."
The school has acquired 30 skateboards for the kids to use along with 50 sets of safety gear.
The students are using Carver skateboards. Although a bit more expensive, "we knew they would be the most conducive to small bodies," said Rafuse. "It was going to be the quickest board for them to learn on."
The boards aren't cheap, running about $400 each, but, according to Kaulback, the board is well suited to the task. It uses a truck system that mimics surfing and snowboarding by getting speed up through pumping (shifting your weight from your heels to your toes in rhythm). Kaulback noted that this rhythm is one piece that ties into the self-regulation aspect of the program.
Program modifications are ongoing, and plans are to purchase some ramps and obstacles in the future.
"We are trying not only to support our students in their need to regulate, but also to have some fun and learn new skills," said Leuschner.