This new student/professional partnership program is pretty rad

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 2/1/24

“Build your own Skateboard”, is a composites learning program at Herreshoff Marine Museum (HMM), developed in partnership with the Town, and the Bristol Warren Regional School District (BWRSD).

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This new student/professional partnership program is pretty rad


When a skateboarder lands a difficult trick on their first attempt, their friends are likely to be heard shouting “first try!” in the background. After a recent visit to the Herreshoff Marine Museum, it seems the Bristol Municipal Career and Technical Academy (BMCTA) has some “first try” magic going on as well.

In the fall of 2023, the BMCTA received a $50,000 Learn365 RI grant from the State, with a first-year goal of creating three major after school initiatives designed to expose local 8-12th graders to careers in sync with their interests and course work.

Their first program, “Build your own Skateboard”, is a composites learning program at Herreshoff Marine Museum (HMM), developed in partnership with the Town, and the Bristol Warren Regional School District (BWRSD). This hands-on learning experience, taught by instructor and Bristol resident Richard Feeny, teaches composite construction while allowing each student to leave with a creation uniquely their own.

“It’s an intro to composite project to laminate a skateboard from seven layers of maple veneers and waterproof glue,” explained Feeny on a recent evening at HMM, where the current cohort of 10 skateboard builders were completing their projects.

The boards are constructed with seven layers of Canadian maple, alternating long grain and cross grain layers to achieve both strength and flexibility. Students needed to quickly get the glue between the layers, line the seven layers up with a skateboard mold, then slip it all into a vacuum bag and pump out the air — about 300 arm-numbing pumps are required.

“It’s exciting because you're trying to do the whole thing in seven minutes before the glue starts drying,” said Feeny. “It’s a great demo composites project because it has to happen on a timeline. In composites you're always fighting the chemistry or the elements, so it's like a real-world project — and once it takes on the shape, you have a thing that's both much stronger and more flexible than you'd expect for what went into it.”

Feeny required the students to mock up two drawings for the skateboard design, which are painted on with acrylics and then varnished. Then at the end of the project, the students — predictably, skateboard enthusiasts — have a new board, a way to get around, empowerment from the great craftsmanship of something they have created, and they have had fun with the art.

On this night, the students, ranging in age from 8th to 11th grades, were painting and waiting for coats of varnish to dry so they could reapply.

Finnigan Boyle, an 8th grade KMS student from Bristol was painting stripes on his board, inspired by the design on Eddie Van Halen’s classic 80s guitars. He was almost done with his final layer of varnish. As was another Bristol 8th grader, Chase Wyman. “My favorite part was coming up with the design,” he said, of an illustration of a brick wall, cracked, with his name emerging from the broken wall, graffiti-style. “I just thought to go with the skateboarding theme.”

Toby Matias, a Junior from Warren, was interested in taking the class because her father works in composites, plus, she likes both art and skateboarding. She was just finishing decorating her board with song lyrics, and small symbols of some of her favorite things, before starting the varnish phase.

Reese Reardon and Emma Russell, both Sophomores from Warren, were planning to decorate their boards with art inspired by different TV girl albums. “This was fun and rewarding,” said Emma. I would definitely do another composite project.”

While organizers plan to launch another round of classes with another 10 students, the BMCTA is working on its second initiative, in development between Roger Williams University (RWU) and the BWRSD, a series of Career Pathway seminars that will demonstrate how a student’s classwork proficiency correlates with occupational skills and talent. The first series wrapping up soon on “Careers in Engineering” is taught by Bristol native Dan Brogan. The second series, “Careers in Media & Communication”, will be taught by Professor Amiee Shelton. Enrollment for this program is open now.

Finally, recruitment of mentors from local businesses and nonprofit organizations has begun. Adults motivated to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for their life’s work are encouraged to volunteer. Some 20-30 mentors are expected to contribute their time and talent to this cause during the next 10 months.

With all this to achieve, BMCTA Coordinator Craig Evans has been busy talking with anyone interested in helping.

“Over the next few years Mt. Hope High School will be looking to place hundreds of students in workplace learning opportunities in the East Bay,” he said. “Coordinating dozens of career exploration engagements is just the beginning. I see a schedule of anywhere from 4-5 weekly events or classes, most held at Rogers Free Library, being introduced this spring.”

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