Mary's students want to come to school!

She’s not your normal art teacher! 

Mary Williamson and I met a few years ago at a school conference. I was pleasantly surprised when she spent a lot of time at the table I’d set up to demonstrate Roarockit skateboard build materials. 

Next thing I knew, Mary had arranged funding and placed an order with us to have her class of At-Risk students all build skateboards at what they have termed "Banting Boardshop". The best part was, these students not only built boards, but earned high school credits for the boards they completed. 

I asked Mary if she would answer some questions about how she set up her now on-going sessions and what the students think about the opportunity. Here are the answers:

Your class started out building pre-shaped boards from us, and now you have included custom builds. Who gets to move up to building custom boards?

In the first semester of the program I start students off with the pre-cut street deck boards or the mini-boards. This introduces them to the process and then for the second year to challenge them a bit more they do the custom mold and longboard.

[Ed Note: Students earn an art credit for SCULPTURE while shaping their foam molds!]

Skateboard building is not your typical subject in school, even for an alternative program. How do you fit this into your curriculum? 

We run an Arts and Culture SHSM in Skateboard Production and Urban Arts. [SHSM is an acronym for Special High Skills Major] The grade 11/12 students earn 8 credits over two semesters. 4 Visual Art Credits, 1 business credit, 1 English credit and 2 co-op credits.

The art courses I offer within the program are Visual Design, Printmaking, Sculpture and Grade 12 Visual Arts with an independent project focus. They make skateboards as part of the Visual Design course where they make their own street deck/mini board and come up with a design for the back, they also work on a production board for the program that gets put up for sale at our year end event. In the second semester they do the sculpture course, where they make their own custom mold and press a custom longboard. They will also paint a design on the back of it to finish it off. They can choose to keep it or sell it at the end of year event.

As there is a cost for the building materials, how do you manage to fund this program?

I am very fortunate to be running a program that is funded by the Ministry of Education of Ontario. This program is funded based on student enrollment. So I get a decent amount of money for the first 3 years to start up the program. After that we need to be generating income for the program. I hope to work towards selling different items including skateboards to raise money for the program.

Has building skateboards been popular with all your students?

Yes students that take the program are taking it because they want to build boards!! The skateboard SHSM is new but growing in popularity. It is beginning to be known around the city, it is a slow process but we promote through Twitter and word of mouth.

I hope that as more people experience the program the program will grow due to the fact that kids love the hands-on approach to learning.

One student said when asked if the program is popular “Where else do you get to make skateboards!!”

Do you have any examples of how your skateboard build program has affected any of your students?

I asked the students how this program has affected them and their number one reply is that it makes them want to come to school. Attendance is a huge issue for alternate kids, that’s why they are here in the first place. This type of program with the focus in skateboard building works to re-engage them in learning and coming to school. 
Some student responses were:
• Enjoy the environment of the classroom when all are working together on their boards
• Enjoy the hands on learning
• Shows them skills that can be practically applied outside of school (ie building things)
• Gives them a new sense of enthusiasm in their education
• Some students actually get more interested in skateboarding after building their own boards
• Provides them with inspiration for future job ideas

What do the students do with their skateboards when they’re all finished?

Students said they “Shred the gnar!!!”, some have sold them, some hang them or display them in their rooms, some make other furniture like shelving with them lol


Are you a skateboarder?

Hell NO!!!! lol and I’m too old to start now!! 

Where did you get your inspiration for this class?

From a student teacher 4 years ago that volunteered at Oasis [Skateboard Factory] and brought the idea of building boards to Banting. Craig Morrison is a huge inspiration and I hope that someday our program here will be half as successful as his is in Toronto!!!

Was it a benefit to have Marcel (from Roarockit) come to your school to do the latest custom build session?

Having Marcel come to our class was great for me and my students. It was wonderful to make the connection first hand with your company and the process of pressing decks. His demos reinforced that we were doing things right here in terms of our pressing technique. The students really warmed to him and it was great because he is a boarder and he could talk their language in relation to the sport and building a board for their particular needs. I have always been a big supporter of giving students multiple learning experiences from different teachers. I am only one perspective and they need to experience different perspectives when learning to make it a more rich and engaging process!!

Mary has created a class environment that offers the sometimes difficult-to-engage students an opportunity to excel where they would otherwise have failed. Simply getting students into the classroom is a huge feat to begin with! By focusing her arts program on skateboard building, students learn by doing hands-on projects and creating something real that they can relate to. 
Well done Mary, you are a pioneer!

Norah Jackson
Roarockit Skateboard Company

For more information and to contact Mary Williamson, click here