Teaching Academics through Action Sports

About a decade ago, Toni and Uli Frallicciardi had one thing, and they needed another.

The South Florida couple’s sons both loved skateboarding, and, as a homeschooling family, they needed to find a way to teach them about science.

The epiphany struck Toni first. What if, she thought, they teach science through skateboarding?

After all, Toni said, “there’s no skateboarding without physics.”

A decade later, the Frallicciardi’s oldest son is a college student studying architecture, their youngest son is a teenage skateboarder, and the couple are the founders of Surf Skate Science, which teaches academics through action sports.

Surf Skate Science meets weekly as a homeschool co-op in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, allowing about 15 homeschooling students at a time to meet up with members of their community and earn science and physical education credits. For about 45 minutes, students between 3rd and 10th grades gather at a skate park or in a gazebo and engage in a hands-on science lesson. Toni, who majored in ocean engineering in college, typically leads the lesson. Afterward, the students grab their skateboard or surfboard and apply what they learned, typically with Uli, who has surfed and skated for decades.

The goal, Toni and Uli say, is to find engaging ways to teach students about STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. As a result, the group sometimes meets at an underwater robotics lab, or at a surfboard factory, or talks with a guest speaker, like a professional surfer.

Surf Skate has seen a surge of interest during the pandemic as many families sought safe ways to keep their kids active and learning, playing outside and with peers. The grant that Toni and Uli received from VELA helped them meet demand by starting an in-person after-school option for non-homeschooling families, and they also began teaching virtual marine science and architecture classes. In addition, families can order a Create-A-Skate and have a box mailed to their home with everything they need to build their own skateboard.

Toni and Uli say their work teaching academics and action sports will continue long after the pandemic subsides.

“If you’re passionate about something, you can do anything,” Toni said. “Uli and I just love skateboarding and surfing, we love the community it brings together, and we’re learning right alongside the kids about how to make the program even more valuable.”