On a sunny morning at Eagle Crest Elementary, the sounds of wood and wheels clatters across the pavement. More than a dozen elementary school children, helmeted and padded, test their balance on asphalt and concrete as they learn the fundamentals of skateboarding.
This is the sixth year Square State Skate has taught skateboarding lessons to the students at Eagle Crest Elementary, including a gap during the height of the pandemic. Across four separate lessons, students in third, fourth and fifth grades were able to hop on a board and ride the pavement.
Addressing a group of fourth graders at the start of the class, Brian Ball, Square State Skate’s owner and lead instructor, asked for a show of hands from students if they’d ridden a skateboard before. A few hands rise in the circle. Ball asks the students if they want to keep skating after the lessons finished and nearly every hand shoots up enthusiastically.
Shannon Brennan, a third grade teacher at Eagle Crest, values the skateboarding lessons as much as her students do. Brennan’s own children joined the skating lessons in previous years and now take part in Square State Skate’s skateboarding camps and after school programs. She spoke warmly of Ball and his staff, how they engage with the kids and how the program has grown over the years.
“The way these men present skateboarding in terms of a community of learners translates from P.E. into the classroom and into their lives, they help to build confidence in these kids,” Brennan said.
Jason Goldberry has taught Physical Education at Eagle Crest Elementary for sixteen years now, and Square State Skate crossed his radar a few years prior to the pandemic. Goldberry said Ball and his staff were willing to work closely with the school district, to make sure all the paperwork was in order and the program was presented well.
“It’s just taken off like a shot and it’s so nice to see them being successful and offer the program to schools,” Goldberry said. “Hopefully it can continue to grow.”
Goldberry likes how skating helped the students learn physical skills – balance, spatial awareness, problem solving – outside of more traditional athletic sports, but beyond that into the social aspects — how to get up again when you fall off a board, how to persevere through failure. More than any other activity, Goldberry said, when a student falls or gets a bump he’s seen them eager to get right back on the board.
Square State Skate teaches skateboarding to kids, not just how to ride a deck or pull off tricks, but patience, resilience, perseverance and fortitude. Ball admitted with a smile that he could talk about the benefits and value for hours to anyone who will listen. He highlighted the nature of failure in particular and how the lesson differs from other sports.
“There are so many positive effects from sports, including learning to fail. We get all that (in skateboarding) but in this different environment,” Ball said. “Failure has a different look out here in skateboarding, because we all do it. Every time we go out (on a board), we experience what would be termed failure.”
Ball has been an educator for 15 years, teaching Special Education in the Boulder Valley School District along with skate instruction. During his undergraduate studies in sociology at University of Colorado Denver, Ball wrote his Senior Honors Thesis on how skateboarding can provide benefits to social and emotional learning in special needs students.
Ball has been on a skateboard since 1985, a constant companion as his military family traveled all around the world that helped him make new friends wherever he went. Beyond that, Ball said, skating taught him self-reliance, self-confidence and more. He founded Square State Skate a decade ago to bring those lessons to youth he relished working with.
During the pandemic, Square State Skate couldn’t teach in schools but Ball and his team saw an increase in their skateboarding camps and even made the pivot to start building ramps that skaters could use at home. Ball said skateboarding was a prime activity for social distancing — skateboarders don’t share equipment or need to be close to each other, but can still share a sense of camaraderie through scraped knees and bruised hips.
During the lesson, Ball admired the students' progress on the board. Some stuck to smoother cement while others took to gritty asphalt, he said, but all of the kids were eager to push themselves. One student took a minor spill and, after a minute to catch her breath, was back up on the board without losing her smile.
“Everyone is going to interpret it their own way, everyone is going to find their own thing to enjoy in skateboarding,” Ball said. “For some, it’s going to be the wind in their hair, or learning a new trick. For others it's just getting from point A to point B and all of that encompasses skateboarding.”