Tumble, Jump, Flip

Chalk School of Movement soars with success

By Drew Myron

Tucked within an industrial area in Odell, Chalk School is a bright and lively play space. Photo courtesy of Chalk School of Movement

Jeri McMaster, 47, can’t sit still. She is not alone.

At Chalk School of Movement in Odell, spry gymnasts turn cartwheels while tiny tots inch along balance beams. Across the room, teens get air with a trampoline bounce.

The spacious indoor playground Jeri created buzzes with tumblers, jumpers, leapers, climbers, and somersaulters of all ages and skills.

“I was one of these kids,” says Jeri, who founded Chalk School in 2017 and greets visitors from a treadmill at the front desk. “I like movement a lot. I don’t like sitting at a desk. I had ADD as a kid. I am not a sit-stiller.”

With a focus on gymnastics and parkour, Chalk School of Movement is a fitness center offering dozens of classes, clinics, open gyms, after-school sessions, summer camps, birthday parties and private events. Chalk serves all ages, from preschool tumblers to teen trainings to adult beginners.

“While our kids have fun, they build strength, develop personal responsibility, build character and learn leadership and social skills,” Jeri says.

But fun isn’t just for kids. Adult classes incorporate fundamental gymnastic movements to build strength and coordination. Open gym times encourage letting loose while getting fit.

Chalk has a roster of 200 active students and a staff of 16, including gymnastics and parkour coaches who are in demand.

Students come from throughout Hood River and the valley, The Dalles, Cascade Locks, Stevenson, and White Salmon.

After-school and summer camps fill quickly, with Chalk’s colorful passenger vans transporting youth from schools to the gym. Classes typically have a waiting list.

Parkour classes are especially popular. Parkour (pronounced par-koor) is a discipline that uses vaulting, jumping, climbing, and swinging to overcome obstacles, both mental and physical. The sport combines acrobatic elements of gymnastics with martial arts and dance movements.

Dryland training at Chalk is popular among local ski and snowboard athletes, including Sean FitzSimmons, the Hood River snowboarder who competed in the Beijing Winter Olympics.

“It’s a really great opportunity to practice here,” says Joe Johnson, Chalk’s parkour coach, who also serves as freeride coach for the Cooper Spur alpine team.

Joe’s team and other local athletes practice aerials, rotations, and other maneuvers on trampolines and the BigAirBag—a soft, inflatable cushion designed to smooth the impact from landing tricks while snowboarding, skiing, and indoor climbing.

“It’s the new cool thing,” Jeri says. “It’s adjustable for stiffness so you can have a fluffy marshmallow or really stick the landing.”

With a focus on gymnastics and parkour, Chalk appeals to athletes who use the open gym to improve their snowboarding, skiing, and skating skills. Photo courtesy of Chalk School of Movement

Jeri was a Portland-based graphic designer working with Nike before shifting gears. In 2007, she turned her attention to fitness and health and “transformed all aspects of my life to support the fitness and health of others,” she says.

Jeri has lived in Hood River for 13 years. In addition to Chalk School of Movement, which she runs with her life and business partner, Ed Ayres, Jeri owns and operates The Power Station near downtown Hood River. The 11,000-square-foot fitness center is open 24 hours a day and offers traditional gym machines and classes.

Initially, Chalk School was in a cramped 3,000-square-foot cinderblock building formerly home to Hood River’s now-defunct drive-in movie theater.

Two years ago, the school moved to Lower Mill Road in Odell. Tucked within the industrial park, Chalk School has tripled its size with a new 9,000-square foot steel-frame facility with 30-foot ceilings.

“We love this place, but we hope to own a larger space,” Jeri says. “It’s larger, but still not big enough. We’d love to have another 20,000 to 30,000 feet. We’d love to have an outdoor skate park, and add a coffee lounge for the parents, and …”

“And we wouldn’t have any trouble filling it,” jokes Ed.

Jeri quickly agrees.

“We’re always going to be the fish in the fishbowl,” she says. “We’ll grow to our size.”

For many parents, Chalk School has been a bright spot in the dark days of the pandemic. After mandatory gym closures, the school reopened and offered small private “pod” classes to minimize spread of the virus.

This approach eased worries, boosted moods, and provided students and parents with relief following the many hours spent with online learning and electronic screens. Watching her daughter tumble and laugh, Shannon Vizenor is grateful.

“This is the thing my daughter looks forward to each week,” she says.

Bea Maass, mother to 5-year-old Sasha, agrees.

“The kids have a ton of fun here,” she says. “It’s an opportunity for them to increase their coordination, burn some energy and be happy with other children.”

For more information on Chalk School of Movement, visit the Chalk Gymnastics website or call (888) 979-3626.