Five years ago, Toronto District School Board (TDSB) teacher Craig Morrison started a half-school, half-business program called the Oasis Skateboard Factory (OSF) to keep teens interested in school.
Unlike traditional schooling, which leaves some students feeling alienated and unfulfilled, the skateboard company allows students to gather credits while building a successful brand.
The program is run out of the Scadding Court Community Centre in Toronto. Students do many of the basic functions in running a skateboard business such as manufacturing, design, and marketing and sales. In this process, they meet curriculum requirements. For example, by writing artist statements and articles for skateboard magazines they meet English requirements. Or by crunching business numbers they pick up math skills.
This real-world application is different than having to create a project that will be graded and thrown away, said student Jacob Eisenstein. Instead, a customer is going to purchase and use it.
OSF has a consistent 90 percent credit completion rate. Over the last two spring semesters, the rate was 100 percent, meaning all students successfully completed the course.
A portion of sales, as an added incentive, is shared by students, while the remainder gets reinvested into supplies for students. Otherwise it would be difficult to keep the program running, if it isn’t already.
While the TDSB puts $4,950 a year into the program, the school board is facing a $55 million budget deficit and is not known for spending money wisely. A report released in December from a forensic audit into the financial situation of the TDSB conducted by Ernst & Young revealed improper uses of funds including $1.29 million in salary increases to senior staff despite a wage freeze, absence of a competitive bid process in almost half of the 20 procurement transactions reviewed, and potentially ineligible trustee expenses such as duplicate reimbursement for home internet charges, a one-night stay at a Downtown Toronto hotel for a conference, and purchase of a tablet computer from a retail vendor for $362.
Tainted by allegations of financial mismanagement, the TDSB’s newly appointed director of education Donna Quan pledges higher levels of fiscal responsibility and says that every dollar must go into the classroom.
Meanwhile, OSF is looking for ways to attract extra funding by partnering with global ad agency Anomaly. Currently, the school is operating at capacity with 26 students, up from 18 last year, but is welcoming expansion. Anomaly will build the school’s profile and provide a mentorship program for each student to develop entrepreneurial and marketing skills, not only for immediate application to the business but to help them skate towards a bright future.
Although the students’ products have been showcased at a local skateboard shop in Toronto, OSF hopes to add its own storefront space in the future.
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