Perhaps nowhere in American society are cultural and economic divides felt more personally than in middle school. Most grown-ups are too occupied by work and segregated by class and profession to be confronted by social disparities; while sixth- through eighth-graders must not only navigate increasingly demanding academics and the inexorable march toward physical and emotional maturity, they must also navigate the stark differences that exist between many of the households in Carpinteria. In a city with a population that is roughly 50-percent Anglo and 50-percent Latino, the student body at Carpinteria Middle School is about 80-percent Latino.

Of course, “Latino” is not synonymous with “economically disadvantaged,” but an uncomfortable reality is that many of the students in Carpinteria who come from households near the federal threshold for poverty are also Latino, and tensions arise between students from different backgrounds. Last year, in reporting about the Just Communities program at CMS, students pointed out how cliques form at the school based on kids who play sports and those who don’t—and while not always true, those cliques are also often divided by race.

“It’s a touchy subject,” said CMS parent Rick Sharp, who noticed divisions between kids at the school. But he also noticed that there was one sport that both “white” and Hispanic youth were interested in: skateboarding. “What can I do to find a place where I can bring them all together?” Sharp asked himself. CMS Principal Lisa O’Shea and volunteers from Lighthouse skateboard shop in Santa Barbara put on a skateboarding competition on Wednesday, Dec. 19, at the middle school, and kids from all backgrounds participated.

“The event surpassed my expectations,” Sharp said. “It was amazing, a full congregation of kids all cheering for each other.” The competition centered on a set number of tricks the four-man judging panel from the Lighthouse shop put out for the skaters to perform—moves like kick-flips and ollie shove-its, that require intense concentration, precise body mechanics and lots of practice to pull off. Steel rails were placed on an open concrete area, and the skaters popped their boards up to slide across or “grind” on the steel trucks (axles) of their skateboards. There was also a launch ramp about three-feet-high that the skaters used to boost themselves into the air for full-rotations before landing again and rolling through.

Sixteen middle school skaters participated and the top four finishers were: 1. Mack Sharp 2. Beto Martinez 3. Roberto Morales 4. Terrance Garibay. Additional events are in the planning stage for February, according to O’Shea. Sharp wondered about the possibility of forming a CMS skateboard team to compete with other middle schools in the area, and is hopeful that more relationships might begin to develop between kids from different backgrounds. With the success of the inaugural skateboarding event at the middle school, the prospect of a skate park in Carpinteria appears more timely—and more needed—than ever.      

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