Every Wednesday afternoon the unmistakable sound of skateboards smacking on hard ground and the rowdy yells of elementary school kids filter through gym doors onto the otherwise empty campus of David Crockett Elementary School in Phoenix.
The kids are part of an after school program called Skate After School, and they’re using their school gym in a way most P.E. teachers have never dreamed.
Founded in 2013 by three veteran skateboarders, Skate After School aims to use skateboarding as a way to engage school kids in underserved neighborhoods using a sport that is usually associated with punk teenagers united in angst-ridden rebellion.
The program takes place in the school gym, and the echo of wheels on the rubber gym floor means it’s loud, as at least 30 kids circle their way around the gym on donated skateboards as if it’s an ice skating rink.
“It’s pretty chaotic here,” said Ryan Lay, Executive Director of Skate After School. Lay co-founded the program with friends Tim Ward and Bobby Green. All three have been skating most of their lives. The program began when Ward decided to donate skate equipment to Mesa nonprofit CARE Partnership but soon realized the kids didn’t know how to skate. So he started programing at CARE and soon after that Green and Lay got involved.
“We just thought it was a really good idea, and we had some free time,” Lay says.
The area surrounding the school is mostly old houses, llanteras, empty lots, and barbed wire. No parks, no crosswalks, and no sprawling green lawns for playing outside.
They soon realized they had a nonprofit idea on their hands and got help with the paperwork and technical side of starting a nonprofit through Valley startup incubator SEED SPOT. They received their initial funding from a SEED SPOT grant and raised $13,000 through a crowd funded Indiegogo campaign. Since then they’ve been able to expand their programming to more schools and pay Ward to work full-time as program coordinator.
The men are well connected in the skate world; Green founded Pyramid Country, an apparel company, and Lay has earned a following as a professional skater. This helps them find donated gear for the kids. Volunteers come to each program, all of them fellow skateboarders, and help teach and encourage the kids.
“Once the volunteers come, they realize how much fun it is to share their passion for skating with little kids,” Lay says.
It’s safe to say Crockett Elementary is in an underserved neighborhood. The principal Sean Hannafin estimates 30 percent of Crockett’s kids are homeless and another 30 percent are refugees. The area surrounding the school on 36th and Van Buren streets is mostly old houses, llanteras, empty lots, and barbed wire. No parks, no crosswalks, and no sprawling green lawns for playing outside.
Once the volunteers come, they realize how much fun it is to share their passion for skating with little kids.
Hannafin, a lifelong skateboarder, has been principal of Crockett for a year and has become one of Skate After School’s biggest cheerleaders. He’s now a board member. He said he appreciates what the program has brought to the school and would like to see them expand to Crockett’s feeder middle school.
“It’s fantastic to see something that our kids can do – inner city children in poverty – that doesn’t cost a billion dollars to join like a soccer team and your parents don’t have to take you there,” Hannafin said. “They can do it by themselves.”
The kids range in age and skill level, and the program has a diverse mix of students, both boys and girls. “You don’t see a lot of girls in hijabs skating any place besides here,” Hannafin said.
Since Skate After School started at CARE and Crockett, it has expanded to three other schools and there are plans to run programs in a couple more. The program provides in-school enrichment programs at the charter schools it works with in place in of P.E. classes.
You don’t see a lot of girls in hijabs skating any place besides here.
Isaac Taylor, 12, has participated in Skate After School since it began at Crockett. He and his friend Gilbert Torres, 10, are usually the last to leave the program, soaking up as much time as they can in the gym with the Skate After School staff and volunteers.
“I taught him almost everything that he knows,” Torres said of Taylor.
Finally, when it’s time to leave Ward has to usher the boys out the gym.
“I have to do this to you guys every week,” he said, feigning annoyance as he and the volunteers finished packing up and moving on to the next school of the day.