An organization that has expanded legal and safe spaces to skate around Richmond has a new initiative. The RVA Sk8 Club offers youth free skateboarding lessons at elementary schools around the city.
WCVE’s Yasmine Jumaa has more for Virginia Currents.
Learn More: Follow @RASAProject on Instagram for highlights from RVA Sk8 Club sessions. Find details about donating skateboarding equipment to the program, and learn about RASA’s other initiatives. See national youth activity trends in the Aspen Institute’s Annual State of Play Report.
At Barack Obama Elementary School four ramps are set up in the playground. A volunteer steadies 8-year-old Aaliyah right before she skates down.
About 16 young skaters are learning the basics from volunteers with the Richmond Area Skateboard Alliance.
Alysia Silencieux: I’ve always wanted to skateboard.
Over the last four weeks, 10-year-old Alysia Silencieux has become more fluid on her board.
Silencieux: Flipping it and landing it, like jumping up on top of the board and also turning.
Alysia Silencieux trying out some new tricks with the help of some volunteer instructors with the RVA Sk8 Club. (Photos: Yasmine Jumaa/WCVE, Animation: Crixell Matthews/WCVE)
Now that she has those skills down, mentor Kathleen Macias encourages her to try something new … riding up the ramp.
The program started in the Fall of 2018. Co-coordinator Chris Mahonski says their goals include promoting diversity and gender equality.
Chris Mahonski: When we come to the schools, there's like no gender gap. Everyone's progressing at the same rate. You know it's so obvious, but it’s like for so long, skateboarding just felt inaccessible to a lot of people.
The RVA Sk8 Club spends four weeks at each school mentoring youth ages 7 to 12. So far they’ve held the program at 10 schools.
Bean Weatherford is the initiative’s coordinator. He says they hope to increase access to skateboarding, and dismantle socio-economic boundaries, through the organization’s efforts and this initiative.
The youth gather to celebrate their accomplishments after RVA Sk8 Club's last session at Barack Obama Elementary School. (Photo: Yasmine Jumaa/WCVE)
Weatherford: We purposely wanted it to be in Richmond Public Schools and particularly the schools that are often overlooked by other programs.
According to a report by the Aspen Institute, between 2011 and 2017 participation in team sports like: football, baseball and basketball declined by 8 percent in six-to-11-year-olds from low-income families. RVA Sk8 Club says skateboarding may be more accessible to youth whose families may not be able to afford those sports.
Weatherford: We see skateboarding as a sport that's independent, but it can also be like a team.
Mahonski: And a subculture just something to like belong to that is a physical, healthy outlet. But it's also a really creative outlet.
In addition to physical activity, skateboarding can have positive benefits on mental and behavioral health.
Malik Hall: When I was in high school myself, it's basically the only thing that helped me keep it together.
Malik Hall is another volunteer with the program.
Hall: If one or two kids picks it up, just you know if they need something, if they had a bad day of school, just had someone picking on them, they had some kind of family dispute, something like that, they can just go out, skateboard and all their worries are just gone.
Skateboarding has been helping the youth build confidence, and fast.
Kaidyn learns how to flip his board and land on top. (Photos: Yasmine Jumaa/WCVE, Animation: Crixell Matthews/WCVE)
Sha’Nai Witcher: Look at him right now. He's actually practicing how awesome. They couldn't pay him to get up there a couple of weeks ago.
That’s Sha’Nai Witcher. She says her son Kaidyn has always been shy, preferring to do his own thing over participating in group activities. But since joining the Sk8 Club, he’s been branching out, and making new friends.
Witcher: He's seven and we've been trying, me and his dad, to help get him out of that shell and there's nothing really that we've found that's been as amazing as this.
Witcher says Kaidyn even invited one of his skater friends to hangout, a big transformation for him.
Kaidyn with his mom Sha'Nai. He's excited to have landed a new trick he'd been trying all afternoon. (Photo: Yasmine Jumaa/WCVE)
As of right now, the program is limited to students signed up for Richmond Parks and Recreation’s after school program.
The Richmond Area Skateboard Alliance hopes to expand the initiative in the future to include regular weekend skate sessions at Carter Jones Park in Southside.
For Virginia Currents, I’m Yasmine Jumaa, WCVE News.