On Snow, Surf or Sidewalk, Let’s Go Boarding!

Madison Reynolds sands her longboard

Bill Curtis was teaching physical education at Eastern High a few years ago when, he says, “I got the sense that a lot of the students just weren’t being engaged by the traditional things we were doing in class.”

Shanna Davids uses a woodburning tool to make a design on her skateboard

Fellow Eastern teacher Bruce Macartney noticed too that his industrial arts students didn’t seem as enamored as they once might have been with the kitchen cutting boards and birdhouses they were turning out in class.

So the pair turned to students for the key to unlocking their enthusiasm, and the results have been pretty gnarly.

“We were smart enough to know we didn’t know what would make them tap into their passion,” Curtis said. “We knew they would tell us if they felt like we were onto something or not.”

Since 2012, Gone Boarding has been offered to students at Eastern, and has since spread to the district’s other two high schools, Northern and Central.

Forest Hills Northern’s industrial arts room is where boards go to be born

During the semester-long, two-hour class, students — due to demand it is offered to seniors first — choose to make their own board. That means paddleboards and surfboards, snowboards and skateboards. Or waveboards. And skis. Don’t forget skis.

And not only do they earn an industrial arts credit, they also get phys-ed credits when they try out their boards. And in some cases, math credits too.

Senior Maddy Krahn has been in wood shop classes since she started high school. “I’m such a visual learner and hands-on student,” she said. She has already made a surfboard and a longboard.

Gone Boarding “has really helped me, especially that it’s in the middle of the day. It’s really improved my focus.”

Malcolm Cusack attaches metal edges to a pair of skis he is making

Maddy has traveled with classmates to Vermont and California to visit snowboard and surfboard companies.

“I obviously love that we get to make boards in here,” she said, “but to be able to see all the jobs that have to do with making boards gave me a much better understanding of everything that goes into it. It has also given me a better idea of what I want to do after high school and college.”

Curtis is spending this school year traveling the state, pitching the class to other high schools. He said a few districts outside Kent ISD plan to offer Gone Boarding this fall, and more are working on starting the following year.

Brittany Seekell, Northern class of 2016, surfing on her board in Florida
Brittany Seekell, Northern class of 2016, surfing on her board in Florida

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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