a man teaching a boy to skateboard on a ramp
Aaron Breetwor teaching William Gonzalez a ramp trick. Screenshot from the video, taken by Lingzi Chen.
Video: César Chávez students learn to skate, video by Lingzi Chen, filmed April 13, 2023.

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With pads and helmets and strings pulled tight, dozens of students at César Chávez Elementary School step on skateboards three days a week and surf on the sidewalk, part of the after-school program on campus. 

“Teacher Aaron!” students yell, calling their instructor, Aaron Breetwor, for help in putting on safety gears to team them a trick. The kids shuffle in between 3:45 to 6 p.m. and, outfitted by Breetwor, take off, laying flat on their stomachs, sitting criss-cross or, for the more daring crew, fully standing and speeding off.

“For the most part, it’s just kids wanting to skate,” said Breetwor, 30, who has been teaching the program since last fall. “Honestly the best thing to do is to support the excitement.”

Breetwor’s class is meant for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, but is open to anyone who wants to learn and has their parents’ permission.

For Breetwor, children are the perfect skateboarding students: “Their sense of play is so strong.” Breetwor’s first lessons usually start with teaching “butt-boarding,” letting the kids sit on the skateboard. “Eventually, they just stand up on their own,” said Breetwor, likening the process to kids learning to walk. “They crawl and then they walk. So they ride on their butts and then they stand up.”

For the 2021-2022 school year, 72.1 percent of the students in César Chávez Elementary School were considered socioeconomically disadvantaged by the state, and 4.7 percent of them were homeless. The affordability and simplicity of skateboarding, for Breetwor, makes it an ideal form of play for kids, and a viable mode of transportation. 

Parents can buy a skateboard from Target or Walmart for $40 and, with simple materials and small changes, “you can update almost any skateboard to be better for transportation,” said Breetwor. Sometimes, he helps upgrade the board for free when parents cannot afford to do so. 

Breetwor said more funding to hire more teachers and invest in better equipment would help support the students’ growing interest.

On a recent afternoon, William Gonzalez was determined to master one skill: Skating up and back down a two-foot ramp. Gonzalez had fallen more than a dozen times, his skateboard sliding out from under him. But he appeared unfazed: As soon as he fetched his skateboard, he tried again. 

Roberto Gonzalez, William’s father, said that skateboarding is the only sport his son loves. “He likes this a lot, this program,” said Gonzalez of William, “I’m happy for my son.” 

William does not have a skateboard at home, and can only practice at school. 

Told about William’s unstoppable trial-and-error, Gonzalez looked at the boy on the ramp with a proud smile: “I know,” said Gonzalez, “he’s my son.”

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Lingzi is our newest reporting intern. She covered essential workers in New York City during the pandemic and wrote about China’s healthcare and women’s rights back in college. Before coming to America to pursue her dream in journalism, Lingzi taught in the Department of Chinese Studies in National University of Singapore.

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