Shredding for school: Researchers study links between skateboarding and academic success
As the sport makes its Olympic debut in 2020, its image is changing with the help of schools and community-based programs that see how it helps students be creative, resilient problem-solvers.children skateboarding in shanghai
Squeezed between the racks of T-shirts and displays of skateboards, Cole Taylor, a volunteer from the Nike Community Ambassador program, sits down with 8-year-old Daniel Basaldua to practice spelling words and complete math problems.Other boys jump off their boards at the front door of the Garage Board Shop in East Los Angeles and find any spare corner to do their homework.
Two assignments completed, along with 20 minutes of reading, earns them points that they can redeem for time on the ramps behind the retail part of the space. What used to literally be a car repair business, the shop has evolved into a thriving after-school tutoring and youth entrepreneurship program —Skate-4-Education — where students from 8 to 18 create their own logos for apparel and boards, and take workshops in math, English, art, videography and youth empowerment.
“Schools come by and thank us at the end of year,” says Jerry Carrera, who co-founded the shop more than 10 years ago.
Every afternoon, 30 to 40 students coming from roughly 15 schools crowd into the shop, with some getting a turn in the “hashtag room,” where they can learn how to use social media to market their personal brands. And, of course, the indoor skate park is the main draw, where the students will flip, twist and grind along a structure similar to a sidewalk curb.
It’s the children’s perseverance with the tricks that Zoë Corwin, a college access researcher at the University of Southern California (USC), is capturing as part of a nationwide study of how skateboarders possess qualities that contribute to success in school and college.
“There are skills that skateboarders believe they have learned through skating that are incredibly applicable to education,” says Corwin, who collected survey responses from 5,000 skateboarders and conducted case studies in seven sites across the country, including the Garage Board Shop. “I want to get this in front of college admissions counselors. The types of skills that skateboarders have are really important for college.”
And with skateboarding making its debut as an Olympic sport at the 2020 games in Tokyo, leaders of programs like Carrera’s say they have an opportunity to change the perception of skateboarders from a public nuisance to that of youth who want to have fun and are trying to master a skill.
Youth in the Garage Board Shop's after-school and summer programs create designs that will end up on T-shirts, hats and skateboards. | Credit: Linda Jacobson/Education Dive
In Los Angeles, a new green space under a bridge that is being rebuilt will also include a skate park, which Carrera called “a stepping stone to our future.”
The Tony Hawk Foundation — naturally — is supporting the research with a $264,000 grant. “Skateboarding’s been around for more than 50 years, but we’re just now beginning to understand the value to communities and individuals,” Hawk said in a video that was used to promote the survey.
Corwin and her team are still analyzing the data, which won’t be formally released until later this fall. An initial “Beyond the Board” white paper notes that the study adds to existing research on skateboarding by including a larger sample of people of color. And it takes an “assets-based perspective.