You won’t find skateboards forced into lockers during class time or gym classes held on squeaky floors at the Oasis Alternative secondary school.
It’s quite the opposite actually at the Toronto alternative school, where physical education credits are awarded for time logged skateboarding and an entire curriculum is established around the business of skateboarding.
The program, founded four years ago, offers an alternate educational system for students grades nine to 11 who have previously struggled, for a variety of reasons, with a more traditionally based curriculum.
One such alternative route students can choose is channelled through the Oasis Skateboard Factory, where according to the school’s website “courses are offered with a skateboard and street art focus.
“Students earn credits by operating a socially responsible entrepreneurial business where they learn to build skateboards, design original graphics, work with local artists, market and display their own work and receive honorarium at the same time.”
In addition to the business and creative focus of the program, the students are encouraged to utilize their creations as well, earning physical education credits for time spent on their boards.
Craig Morrison, founder of and a teacher at Oasis, believes that students should not be seen as a uniform entity and that a uniform curriculum often falls short.
It’s his contention that students have the potential to succeed as long as they are exposed to a curriculum that relates to their actual lives.
“Our school mandate is to service some of the students who have fallen through the cracks. Oasis Skateboard Factory started as a skateboard and street art class and grew out of that,” Morrison said.
“I found that the attendance for that class was great compared to some of the other classes and because the kids were actually interested they were really really engaged.”
Nick Robertson, a second year student at Oasis is a firm believer that the emphasis a on subject matter that relates to a student’s interests, as well as the flexibility to earn credits in what you like has made the world of difference in his academic success.
“My educational experience at Oasis is better from my prior learning experiences because at Oasis my work has meaning and depth to it. Since it means going out into the world and not sitting at a desk, the program gives me a lot of confidence in myself, and a renewed interest in education as a whole” Robertson said.
“The alternative curriculum has benefited me and many of my classmates by keeping us intrigued long enough to excel in our coursework. The subject matter is relevant to the culture of urban youth and that contributes to the near flawless success rate of the program.”
In addition to instilling the students with a newfound confidence in both intellectual and physical education, Oasis provides the students with entrepreneurial opportunities as well, adding to their real world confidence.
Oasis Skateboard Factory works in partnership with Longboard Living, a Queen Street West skateboard shop. After designing and building their own boards from scratch, students at Oasis are granted an outlet to actually market and sell the boards to real customers, often for profit.
Ryan Rubin is the owner of Longboard Living and is both happy and proud to be involved with a program that allows students, who in the past have been unenthusiastic about school, to excel.
“The students are a pleasure to work with. As a collective group they have a lot of skills to offer small businesses, skate shops and the skateboarding industry,” Rubin said.