Student boarders ride growth wave
In addition to original design-and-build aspect, Forest Hills’ Gone Boarding class expands to include marketing, digital media.
An action sports program at Forest Hills Public Schools has grown exponentially in two years and is attracting new professional partnerships.
When the Business Journal profiled Gone Boarding two years ago, the cross-curriculum physical education and industrial arts program had 20 students at Forest Hills Eastern High School and a fledgling partnership with Vermont-based snowboard manufacturer Burton.
Now, the program has expanded to Forest Hills’ other two high schools with more than 100 students and could be on its way to growing beyond the school district, according to Bill Curtis, one of the program’s founders and original physical education teacher.
Last month, Curtis and a group of students arrived back in Grand Rapids following a trip to California, where they met with a variety of action sports companies, such as Red Bull, Vans and Hurley.
Gone Boarding has grown well beyond its original intention of providing students with an alternative elective. The class allows students to design and build a skate, snow or surfboard and use them in block class settings for their physical education credits.
The base of design-and-build and the ability to use their creations in various settings, such as snowboards at Cannonsburg, still is there, but the program also has expanded to include math, science, art, business and communications instruction.
Curtis is no longer teaching the class, instead focusing on fostering business partnerships and expanding the program into other school districts.
“There’s so much that goes into it, it’s really hard to boil it down into a quick pitch,” Curtis said. “Thankfully, we can capture a lot of it with video and let them get a feel for it. It’s gotten good traction, and I will say this: I have not been to a school where I make a presentation and they don’t think it’s relevant for students.”
In California, Curtis allowed the students to present to the companies they visited to show what the program is all about to executives. At Red Bull, the students learned almost nothing about energy drinks and instead about the company’s dedication to the action sport lifestyle and their range of departments, such as digital media, music production, video games and a high-performance athletic training facility.
“Never once did we really see the behind the scenes of making energy drinks, it was the marketing and media aspect of the company,” Curtis said. “They’re all about action sports; that’s what they do.”
At Vans, the students met with Steve Van Doren, the company’s vice president of events and promotions. Van Doren also is the son of one of Vans founders and worked at the original retail store more than 50 years ago.
This spring, Van Doren will make a trip with other Vans representatives to Grand Rapids to host a party for the Gone Boarding class and present a $10,000 check for the program to hold a creative competition for the students.
Hurley is flying Curtis and two class participants who have shaped surfboards to the company’s Next in the Water surf show in May.
“They’re trying to innovate for the next generation of people in the water, and they understood the vibe of what we’re doing,” Curtis said. “This is all the business stuff we didn’t anticipate exposing the students to.”
Bennett Wolff took the lead on several presentations in California, as Curtis knew the Forest Hills Eastern senior has his eyes on a business career. Wolff said he was eager to take Gone Boarding as a senior ever since he saw its creation when he was in middle school.
While Wolff seems to be in good position for a future career in action sports marketing, he has yet to decide on what college he’ll attend in the fall. He did keep business cards from his meetings in California, however.
“It was an awesome opportunity, because I hear about these companies and wear their products, and we got to see and tour these operations and meet the owners,” Wolff said. “I got to present what our class is all about and talk about how it really relates to what they’re doing and the lifestyle they push and how we push it.”
Curtis said several former Gone Boarding students have decided to go into industrial design. Another former student at Grand Valley State University is pursuing a videography degree while also operating his own videography company.
Yet another former student is in the art and design program at the University of Michigan thanks to her portfolio from Gone Boarding.
“She wants to use her artistic ability to start her own surfboard brand, functional art is what she calls it,” Curtis said. “When she was applying to U-of-M, she had her surfboard and three skateboards, and they told her the portfolio got her in because they just don’t see that from high school students.”
Wolff, as well as plenty of other students, has had his potential career path widened because of Gone Boarding.
“When I was going to these companies and talking to their CEOs and department heads, they opened the door to the fact you can really push what you love to do to be your career,” Wolff said. “I was able to talk to the Hurley chief of marketing, and she really talked to me about how she is marketing a lifestyle and enjoys everything she does.”