Post and Courier
September 30, 2014

Children groove, get active with roller skating lessons at Oakland Elementary School

Posted: 12/20/2013 10:00 p.m.
Updated: 12/21/2013 07:19 a.m.


By Diette Courrégé Casey

Third-grader McCartney Roister promised to show off a trick or two during a recent PE class at Oakland Elementary School in West Ashley.

His special skill? Doing the sprinkler dance move while staying upright on roller skates.

"I did fall down last week, so I might today," he said minutes before demonstrating his talent.

Kids love to roller-skate, but that's not a sport schools often teach. Oakland Elementary appears to be one of few local schools that is teaching kids how to roller-skate, and it's doing so in a relatively cost-effective, time-efficient way.

Physical education teacher April Blanton found a company that loans skates to schools for $10 per student, and she taught roller skating to third- through fifth-graders for the first time this fall.

"It was awesome," said Blanton, 32. "Our generation grew up skating. When we were growing up, that's what you did. Over the years, it doesn't seem to be as popular anymore. I looked at it as a neat opportunity to teach some of the children who might not have skated, or even the ones who had but don't get to go to the rink often."

Skating soared in popularity in the 1970s. Rinks got better floors, wheels had smoother rolls, and the addition of disco music and lights made skating as popular as bell-bottom jeans and Pet Rocks.

Skating saw another resurgence in popularity during the 1990s, except in-line skates were all the rage.

The Lowcountry used to have at least six skating rinks, but it's down to three: Hot Wheels on James Island, Music In Motion in Summerville and Stardust Skate Center in North Charleston.

Terri Halter manages Hot Wheels; her mother owns the business. She said their skater numbers haven't fluctuated much during the past 15 years, and most of those who skate do so with friends or family.

"It's not the athleticism," she said. "It's the social aspect of it. Friday night is a social environment."

Schools used to take field trips to the skating rink, but that doesn't happen much anymore, Halter said. One private school, Mason Preparatory School, does a skating lesson at Hot Wheels, and another school brings students there for its science lesson on motion.

"It's a risk factor schools don't want to take," Halter said.

For Oakland Elementary's skating unit, Blanton said the district's risk-management office required her third- through fifth-graders to wear helmets, which she also thought was a good idea. None of the injuries during her class were serious.

Not all of Blanton's students are meant to be athletes, so she teaches them a variety of lifetime activities that anyone can do. Roller skating fits into that category, she said. "It would just give them an opportunity to try something new and different," Blanton said.

At a conference she learned about a company that handled roller skate rentals, and her school PTA helped offset some of the cost for the 235 kids' skates.

The school treated it as an in-school field trip, so parents were asked to pay $7 for the unit that lasted five weeks. Oakland Elementary is the first school in South Carolina that the company has served, Blanton said.

On Tuesday, some fourth-graders ran through the door of the PE room, took off their shoes and waited for Blanton to give the go-ahead to put on their skates. Blanton told the class that this was their final week of skating, and they responded with a chorus of disappointed "awws."

Their spirits rebounded quickly (a multitude of "Yes!!") when Blanton said they would have more time to free skate and play games.

As students strapped on their helmets, wrist guards and skates, Blanton said, "This has been the hardest part of the skating unit." She moved around the room helping students lace their skate boots.

A few minutes later students were ready to roll, and the class kicked off with Aretha Franklin's "Respect." With music pumping through its speakers, the school's multipurpose room instantly transformed into an honest-to-goodness skating rink. Students cheered and wiggled their arms and hips as they slid across the floor.

Blanton had asked her Facebook friends for their favorite skating-rink songs, and she used their suggestions to build the class playlist. It included some classic rink tunes such as "Thriller" by Michael Jackson, "Whoomp There It Is" by Tag Team, and "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice.

Fourth-grader Frederick Fortner was among those feeling the rhythm while making circles around the room. He said he didn't own a pair of skates but wanted some. "You can express your feelings on wheels," he said. "This is like some kids' dream come true."

Fourth-grader Jasier Clarke was excited when he found out his class would be skating. He said it's fun to roll around and to "see people fall." His skating has improved since the class started, and he said he even was learning how to skate backward.

McCartney, the third-grader doing tricks, said he doesn't live close to a skating rink, but he likes to go, and his dad sometimes skates with him. He has a pair of in-line skates, and he planned to practice more on roller skates before using those.

He didn't take a break during the entire 45-minute class period.

He left the room with sweat, and a smile, on his face.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 843-937-5546.