- Our Partners
- Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory
Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory
The mission of the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory is to engage the city’s youth through hands-on, experiential programming inspired by the heritage of the sea. PWBF offers project-based learning clubs for students to develop motivation, coping skills, agency, self-awareness, and confidence.
PWBF offers two project-based learning clubs for students to develop motivation, coping skills, agency, self-awareness, and confidence. The first, the Boat Build and Sail Club, occurs year-round for three and a half hours, three days per week after school. Teams of youth build boats in the shop during colder months and sail the completed projects during the summer. The second, the Community Row Riverguides, focuses on the importance of community action. Youth in this program learn about the Schuylkill River and provide on-water environmental education for their peers in the community.
Number of Full-Time Staff
Boat Build and Sail Club
Boat Building Apprenticeship
Teens ages 14-18 exposed to gang violence, crime and neglect
About the Program
How better to foster initiative and teamwork than by building a sea-faring vessel with your hands? The Boat Build and Sail Club, PWBF’s focus for the SEL Challenge, occurs year-round for three and a half hours, three days per week after school. Teams of youth build boats in the shop during colder months and sail the completed projects during the summer. youth teams work on alternate nights on the same boat, so their performance of nightly goals impacts the workload of their teammates the following night.
Boat Build and Sail Club engages youth to build their own racing sailboats. In this apprenticeship model, youth work in teams of four and learn how to use shop machinery and hand tools to build the boats. The project consists of three 12-week semesters during the school year and a six-week summer sailing program . The Boat Build and Sail Club is designed so that youth are empowered, motivated, and learn through failure. There is continual iteration and evolution, and the process of boat building provides a natural feedback loop for the youth. The choices staff make, down to the selected model of the boat youth build, intentionally support youth’s development.
The Boat Build and Sail club follows a set of daily rituals that provide structure and routines that allow youth to check in, open up, complete tasks, and reflect each day.
Growing Roots - At the start of the program in the fall, much time is spent on getting to know one another and forming bonds as a team. Youth work primarily in the boat shop developing boat plans with some time spent on the water, as weather permits. A big difference between the 2013-2014 program year and the 2014-2015 program year was that youth were able to sail in the boats built the previous year. This was a point of pride for the returning youth as well as a motivator for those youth new to the program: they were able to see what they were setting out to do.
Experimentation and Play - During this stage, youth are invited to explore the shop and experiment with some of the hand-held tools like planes, T-squares, and tape measures. Youth get their hands on scraps of wood and experiment using some of the tools for small projects.
Learning to Swim - Within the first couple of nights at the program, youth learn to safely use the large machinery (e.g., chop boxes, band saws, table saws). They start to develop skills as they’re trained in the use of specific machines and practice using the equipment. One of the first things they build is a mold around which they’ll put the planks that will form the skin of their boat. But first, the youth work on lofting—drawing designs for the boat in life size on the floor of the shop. They work from these plans to measure, mark, and cut the boards into the right shape. At this stage, youth are learning many technical skills, such as measurement, wood selection, and use of machinery, as well as learning how to share space and interact cooperatively on the project with their peers.
Community - At this stage, the group selects a team leader for the project. The team leader is someone who helps to keep the team on track to meet their goals and is the go-to person for other youth on the team. If the team leader is asked something he/she can’t answer, then he/she brings it to a staff member. This includes technical questions and interpersonal challenges. The group also writes a group charter, a set of expectations that the team can abide by and hold each other accountable to as they set out to work on their boat.
Getting to work - In the winter, work is primarily shop-based, as youth are deep into the building phase of their boat. They’re working daily in the shop in pairs or small groups towards established goals. During this time they’re refining their carpentry skills.
Workshops and Field Trips - Workshops and field trips help to break up the monotony of a long winter in the shop and help keep the youth motivated. Staff or invited guests may conduct workshops to guide youth through the steps of a process, and then youth work through the process on their own to completion. Field trips provide a change of scenery and an opportunity to learn more about the beauty, lore, and history of sailing. For example, a trip to Morris Arboretum at the University of Pennsylvania includes a tour with a senior naturalist who showcases the woods used in boatbuilding. The field trips are leveraged back at the shop through workshops and group reading related to wood biology, selection, and use. Some field trips on the other hand are just for fun, like a Phillies or Sixers game.
Sailing - Starting in the fall of 2014, the PWBF acquired a new contracted space with Department of Parks and Recreation, which means they have year-round waterfront access. In the summer, youth spend most of the time on the water, sailing in the boats they designed and built in the program. Victoria transitions from master of boat-building to sailing coach as she helps the youth to learn to launch, steer, and sail the boats they’ve built.
The Boat Build and Sail club also follows a set of daily rituals that provide structure and routines that allow youth to check in, open up, complete tasks, and reflect each day. Such daily rituals include an evening meal, a designated time after the meal to “open up” and set goals, a mindfulness activity, a “connecting cohorts” project planning exercise, and an appreciations activity.
About the Staff
A vital part of making the work of PWBF successful is selecting staff who embrace a strengths-based approach to youth development. Staff members bring a range of expertise in boatbuilding, sailing, marine ecology, sociology, social work, special education, and environmental education. Some of the staff are recent PWBF alumni who return to the program as employees after high school graduation.
Continued professional development plays an important role in preparing PWBF staff to work with youth. The majority of staff training content comes from the work of Dr. Ken Ginsburg, a pediatrician and PWBF advisor who has developed a strength-based curriculum in resiliency building. Dr. Ginsburg’s work focuses on the seven Cs of Fostering Resilience: competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control. Staff are coached to use their own expertise and resources and simultaneously recognize youth’s unique backgrounds and experiences to promote youth’s discovery of skills.
Tips and Tools from Staff
To read more about how Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory implements social and emotional learning, download their case narrative here.