When Dave Bean arrived at Gould Academy 13 years ago, the feedback he heard about the skaters on campus usually concerned something they had done wrong. But these days when the Gould campus is free of snow, Bean sees as many as 20 skateboards leaning on a wall outside the dining hall.
For Bean, an English teacher and skate team manager at Gould, the sight gives new meaning to the term boarding school. Although Gould -- a private boarding school founded in Bethel, Me., in 1836, which offers skateboarding as a varsity team sport -- may have been one of the first, an increasing number of schools around the country have begun blending action sports and academics.
Last month Woodward West welcomed an inaugural class of 10 students to its campus of ramps, bowls, trampolines and other training devices in Tehachapi, Calif. Windells Academy in Mount Hood, Ore., is in its second year. And a school in Arizona that was set up specifically for skateboarding in 2008 now has 14 students. Although each of the schools applies a different approach to learning, there's one thing they have in common: all offer skateboarding, perhaps the most unstructured of action sports.
"The overall trend in the skating community as a whole has been toward training," says Morgan Ketterman, who works in marketing at Kids That Rip, which has a day school for skateboarders in Mesa, Ariz. "To step out and say we're training for skateboarding is the thing that gets everybody."
Kids That Rip was founded as a gymnastics training facility. In 2004, owner Geoff Eaton added skateboarding to the program and built an indoor skate park. In 2008, Eaton created a home school program for his two sons, Jett and Jagger, both of whom are accomplished skaters. This year, Kids That Rip has 14 students (two girls and 12 boys) from third through eighth grades.
Students spend the hours from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. working on laptops under the guidance of two certified teachers. Skaters session from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. with instructors who specialize in separate disciplines such as street, vert, and bowls. The program integrates gymnastics training and the skaters spend time on trampolines, too.
"The point of the school is to offer an alternative to public school," Ketterman says. "Maybe there's a possibility of becoming a pro."
Woodward and Windells offer the possibility of a path to the pro ranks, too.
Two years ago, Windells expanded its summer camp program for snowboarders at the base of Mount Hood to offer a boarding school for high school-age snowboarders and freeskiers. Last year the school added skateboarding.
Students at Windells live in cabins and complete coursework with the help of certified teachers. There may be no classrooms, but Windells' campus is an action sports playground, with a BMX track, a 25,000-square foot skate park, and a building filled with ramps and foam pits for training. Nearby Timberline ski resort has a halfpipe and terrain parks.
Like Windells, Woodward expanded a summer camp program. Students choose between Woodward U., a boarding school for high school-age students in California, or Woodward Everywhere, independent study without any real physical campus.
The Woodward Everywhere program has enrolled sponsored teenage skaters Curren Caples, Louie Lopez, and Mitchie Brusco. Their budding careers require regular travel which would mean missing too much school. But the program allows them to complete coursework on their own time.
In January, Glen Purdy was one of seven students -- skaters, BMXers, and an inline skater -- in ninth through 12th grades, who showed up at Woodward U., two hours north of Los Angeles. Purdy, a junior from New Jersey, now lives in a cabin and works with teachers toward a high school diploma while honing tricks on his bike on the facilities' acres of indoor and outdoor bowls, ramps, street plaza, and foam pits and resi ramps.
"I do see myself coming pro one day," says Purdy, whose style and confidence have soared as he works on double truck drivers to fakie and 360 bar spins.
At Woodward, students can pursue a pro career like Purdy, or take advantage of the school's digital media classes to acquire the skills to work in the action sports industry as photographers, videographers and filmmakers.
"I came from the school of thought that not every kid is going to be a professional skater or BMX rider," says Neal Hendrix, Woodward brand manager. "The idea is to give them different attributes to stay in these sports once they don't have a pro career."
With a diploma from Woodward or Windells, students can attend college if they choose.
At Gould, 100 percent of the students will go on to college, according to Bean. Of 250 total students, about 10 percent participate on the school's skate team, which competes in the Maine Skate Series.
But Bean says the skateboarding program doesn't emphasize competition. Instead, he believes that lessons from skateboarding and snowboarding complement academics. "It's all about learning styles," Bean says. "When you understand how you learn, you understand how you learn in all settings."
That's a sentiment Purdy can relate to. Moving across the country to Woodward, away from friends and family, has been an education. "Not just riding and academics," he says, "but you learn a lot about life."