Learning to skateboard shows students that anything is possible
Watching children skateboarding nervously around a gymnasium, slipping and sliding with their eyes firmly fixed on their instructor, may not seem like the best use of time in a physical education lesson. But it's through this activity that we are managing to increase students' confidence and encourage them to fulfil their potential.
It all started in 2002 when we launched a teaching programme at the skatepark we run at Rye Airfield in New Hampshire, US. Since then, people have regularly asked us to bring the skatepark to them. In 2012, we finally extended the programme to schools, calling it Get on Board.
We ran our first project at Little Harbour School, an elementary in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I spoke to the school's PE teacher who was very keen to get us involved, and we got a lot of support from the community, many of whom remember seeing me skate to the same school some 30 years ago.
We focus on teaching the students to get from A to B on their skateboards - anything more than that is a bonus. A typical first lesson in the two- week programme starts with us talking to the children about safety and teaching them how to balance on the boards. By the end of the first class, even the most timid children are happily skating around the gymnasium.
These are the children who may be struggling in a number of areas - from their home life to their education and personal development - and this programme gives them the chance to learn to do something that wouldn't otherwise be available to them. We are not only trying to teach them how to skateboard but also how to stretch and challenge themselves and to build up their self-belief, so that they come to understand that anything is possible if they try hard enough.
One of our first students was a little girl with Down's syndrome, who naturally gravitated towards sitting down on the skateboard instead of standing.
One day, I got this student to teach her classmates her way of doing things. She had the biggest smile on her face and the other students were thrilled for her. That sort of empowerment is what we are aiming to achieve.
We are relatively limited by funding in terms of what we can do. For example, I would prefer to be able to work with schools for a day at a time instead of rushing around between different classes.
I'm hoping that the skating industry may step up to help financially - a lot of people are aware of what we are doing but we have a long road ahead of us.
I would like this project to continue at the same schools next year, giving the older students the chance to come and help the younger ones. If you put them in charge, they will lead, and in some ways I hope that the project will help to build the community and draw the children together.
The good news is that we are getting calls every week from schools requesting us to come in. Skateboarding may seem an unlikely fit for education, but slowly we are showing what a big impact it can have.
Beau Lambert is general manager of Rye Airfield Skatepark in New Hampshire, US. He was talking to Abbie Cavendish. For more information, visit www.ryeairfield.com
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