Whitstable is home to the first skateboarding school in the country. We speak to its founder.
It’s not California but Whitstable that is home to the FAR Skate Foundation. Part of its remit is the FAR Academy – the first of its kind in England and its determined founder Brent Lewis explains why the sport and the culture surrounding skateboarding is so beneficial. And he also explains why skateboarding is particularly successful for students who do not thrive in mainstream education.
“ Many of our students are from SEMH (Social, Emotional and Mental Health backgrounds) and are referred to us from Local Authorities as having special needs. . .]
The Academy differs from mainstream schools in that it is not target based. Its approach to learning captures students that do not meet their abilities within the average school system.
But through the medium of skateboarding?
A sport of champions
‘Skateboarding is an individual sport,’ says Brent. And it is a sport – soon to be an ‘Olympics sport’ notes Brent although the timing when the next event takes place is still being discussed.
‘It’s not a team sport and there are no rules to it,’ he adds. Sounds good. What else?
‘It’s expressive,’ he continues.
‘You can be technical in your approach and start with a lesson but then you can draw on your own drive with the sport,’ he adds.
Independence and personal motivation can sound particularly inviting when you are trying to find your way in the world and do not feel included as part of an environment which places great emphasis on the team.
Skate to motivate
‘It’s all down to your own motivation how you want to progress with the sport,’ adds Brent.
He continues: ‘We help those with educational needs, disadvantaged backgrounds and anxiety from the ages of 14-25.’
There are educational offerings of this kind in a New York suburb and in Sweden but this 2009 founded Academy is the only one of its kind here and Brent says he gets calls ‘every day’ from local authorities and other educational professionals asking him to create one in their vicinity.
Students do not need to be skateboarders but Brent mentions that there is a ramp in the classroom where students can get on board if they want a break. It all sounds geared to the skateboarder but no one is excluded.
“ Sixty per cent of our students are skateboarders and forty per cent are interested in learning the business of skateboarding. . .]
The business of skateboarding requires the skills needed to start any business and the Academy is particularly proud of its one hundred per cent success rate for its Business and Enterprise course.
Meeting educational needs
The Academy also offers Photography, Art and Design, Graphic Design, ‘all of which helps with mental health’ says Brent as well as the more practical side of starting a skateboarding business.
But what other lessons are being offered? After all, skateboarding sounds like a lot of fun but more prosaic learning has to be met too doesn’t it? Brent is keen to add that Maths and English also form a key part of the schedule.
Parents are pleased to discover that there are options for their child especially in the cases where they have been excluded by the tick box environment of contemporary mainstream education. The Academy lets students find an outlet for their talents. For every child is talented but not necessarily in the way our current educational system defines.
‘They are engaged for the first time in their lives,’ notes Brent and he adds that ‘former students have gone on to work for us.’
“ Digital culture is embedded here. IT and Graphic skills are massive’ says Brent of the Academy which has one eye on the future. . .]
Brent himself teaches and holds a PGCE and he also fundraises. They are currently fundraising for a new, larger premises in Whitstable and hope their efforts will culminate in an Academy with an indoor skate park.