LAKELAND, Fla. — To Paul Peterson’s knowledge, he’s the only person in Florida who teaches an art class like he does.
In fact, he believes there’s only one other course like it in the United States (in California) and only one more in all of North America (in Canada).
The class? An art class at Southwest Middle School in Lakeland, where Peterson helps students design, build and paint their own skateboard.
“It started as a way to give kids something other than canvas to paint on, something they’re really going to treasure,” Peterson said. “They get a one-of-a-kind skateboard, not another one in the world. They get the experience of building it, the knowledge and it supports all the other things they’re learning in all the other classes.”
Peterson’s interest in skateboards began in a roundabout way while growing up in Orlando. He was really interested in surfing, but couldn’t make it to the beach very often.
“My friends and I started skateboarding and tried to (skateboard) down steeper driveways,” Peterson said. “It was all to get that feeling of surfing.”
But when Peterson got into teaching, he knew a class where students built their own surfboard would be too expensive. So for 25 years, Peterson has been building his art class around the skateboard theme instead.
“(The students) tend to react like, ‘Oh, I get to do a skateboard. I don’t get to do that in other classes.' So, it’s a really good hook,” Peterson said, noting that the students learn math, science, technology and engineering in the class too, often without realizing it.
One of the students working on a skateboard when Spectrum Bay News 9 visited Mr. Peterson’s classroom was sixth grader Anniaya-Sofia Williams.
Williams says she was experienced doing artwork using paints, crayons and colored pencils. But she jumped at the chance to use a skateboard as her canvas.
“Whenever I learned there was going to be an art club here, I was like, ‘I got to be in that, I got to be in that,’” Williams said, adding that her mother and grandmother were both excited she joined.
“My mom was like, ‘Oh, that’s very cool. Good job for you.’”
Mila Badaillo, another sixth grader at Southwest Middle School, said the art course had brought her closer to her father.
“When I told my dad that (I was in the class), he was like, ‘Whoa, that’s cool,’ because back in the day, my dad used to skateboard,” Badaillo said. “Overall, it’s probably one of the best classes in the whole school.”
Peterson teaches three levels of the class at Southwest Middle School, in addition to an after-school club.
The students pay $25 for the supplies necessary to build the skateboard, and Peterson requires the students earn that money on their own, rather than get it from their parents.