BOULDER, Colo. — The kids at Douglass Elementary School already had a climbing wall and a zip line in their gymnasium. Then their P.E. teacher learned to skateboard.
So the students are taking up skateboarding too. It’s the latest in a trend toward physical education that’s fun and tempts kids into staying active outside of school and perhaps years later.
Douglass teacher Richard Cendali developed a school skateboarding curriculum after learning how to skateboard last year from his former student Eric Klassen. Klassen is the co-owner of the skateboard education program Skate Pass LLC.
“I’m always trying to find new and exciting things kids like to do,” said the white-haired Cendali, 60.
Program to expand nationwide
The curriculum has spread to five Colorado schools, and Skate Pass plans to expand nationally in the fall.
“Skateboarding is definitely a new activity in school P.E. classes,” said Paula Kun, spokeswoman for the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. “Not everyone is going to love it, but I’m sure it’ll be a fun, new activity.”
Skate Pass offers schools “curriculum kits” starting at $3,000 that include helmets, pads and skateboards with wheels designed not to scratch up gym floors. The boards also have extra-soft bushings — part of the axle-like trucks that cushion turns — that are easier for kids to control.
Experts say school P.E. programs in America are undergoing a dramatic change — from competitive team sports and physical fitness testing to a smorgasbord of appealing options like yoga, martial arts and climbing. The changes come amid growing concern over children’s sedentary habits, helping fuel childhood obesity. About 34 percent of U.S. children are estimated to be overweight or obese.
The Skate Pass program fits into this “New P.E.” movement, which recognizes some kids aren’t natural athletes and might be intimidated by physically competitive environments.
“Think back to when you were a kid,” Klassen said. “If you’re going to go out and play, you’re not thinking you’re getting exercise. You’re just going to run out and screw around. That’s what kids think about skateboards. As long as they think that way, they’re going to keep on doing it.”
Once a year, Cendali’s students put on helmets and pads to learn the basics of how to push a board, stand on it, how to fall, turn and even make grabs — when they bend down and grab the board.
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“I didn’t know that would ever happen at any school,” said fifth-grader Davis Wheeler, who learned to skateboard at age 7 from his brother.
Mr. C, as the students call him, is known for creating the traveling Skip It jump-roping team about 30 years ago and for helping develop an inline-skating curriculum for P.E. classes nationwide.
The idea to add skateboarding began after Klassen, a former professional snowboarder in California, moved to Boulder and started going to skate parks instead of driving to the mountains. His next epiphany came when he realized he wanted to pass on what he had learned.
“I didn’t know how to teach skateboarding. Eric came in, taught me to do turns, how to push.
“I was skateboarding all around the gym. Me,” Cendali said, raising his eyebrows. “I was terrified. I was panicked.”
Improving balance — and self-esteem
Both men say students can achieve balance and core strength with skateboarding, not to mention higher self-esteem, once they realize they can do it.
Fifth-grader Grace Kerber, a slender girl with a long, long ponytail, skateboarded for the first time last year, in Cendali’s class.
This year, she slowly but surely leaned over for front- and back-side grabs while gliding across the gymnasium floor. She made an arc around orange cones without stepping off the board.
“I’m still a little scared of falling on my face,” she said. “It’s just like standing on the ground, except you’re on wheels.”
Cendali watched and smiled. “I’m thrilled to death for her,” he said.
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