The mainstream school curriculum leaves some students feeling alienated and unfulfilled. A new Toronto District School Board (TDSB) program being run out of the Scadding Court Community Centre manages to both help students meet the curriculum’s requirements and keep them engaged.
The Oasis Skateboard Factory gets students – many of whom had dropped out of traditional schooling – to earn credits by building a brand and creating their own skateboard company.
“I founded it five years ago out of an idea I had to keep kids interested in school,” said TDSB teacher and Oasis Skateboard Factory founder Craig Morrison. “It’s school, but it’s also a social enterprise.”
The school gives students a chance to actually manufacture skateboards, come up with and apply their own designs and market the brand. They also create buttons, T-shirts and other swag as promotional tools.
For student Jacob Eisenstein, the school offered challenges and opportunities not present in the traditional school system.
“You don’t think of it as being forced into learning something out of a (school) package that will be marked and thrown away,” Eisenstein said. “This board we’re working on now, somebody paid for it. Somebody’s going to ride it.”
Fellow student Peter Mackinnon said the ability to create his own brand creates added incentive, as does the fact the students share in the profits. They receive a portion of the money from the sale of their skateboards while the remainder goes toward supplies for the students’ work.
“Comparing what we’re doing here (to traditional high school), there’s just no comparison,” said Mackinnon. “We come here and we work hard, but it’s something we’re passionate about.”
The school is intensive, with students attending for five hours a day, without breaks. There are snacks available in the classroom to allow the students to power through without stopping.
While the most visible part of the school experience revolves around creating skateboards, students also meet English requirements by writing artist statements, zines and articles for professional skateboarding magazines.
“It’s the core elements of English but it’s connected to real-world results,” said Oasis Skateboard Factory teacher Lauren Hortie. “Looking after the business side of their brand looks after the math part of curriculum, too, but it’s presented more as a job and something they can call their own.”
The students’ work has been showcased at the Baitshop - a skateboard shop in Parkdale – and at the Toronto Design Offsite Festival among other places.
Creating and cultivating their own brands gives the students more of a sense of agency over their work, and as a result the Oasis Skateboard Factory has close to a 100 per credit completion rate. That is remarkable for any school, let alone one in which most of the students have already dropped out of the conventional schooling system.
With 26 students enrolled, the school is at capacity, though Morrison and Hortie hope to see it expanded further.
“We would love to have a storefront space where we have a window so the public can see the great work that these students are doing,” Hortie said.
Their work has not gone unnoticed in some circles. Oasis student Kyle Echlin recently won the CBC’s Future Dragon Fund competition, earning $5,000 for the school and a visit from Dragon’s Den star Kevin O’Leary.
For more information on the Oasis Skateboard Factory, visit http://oasisskateboardfactory.blogspot.ca