Boston Family Boat Building

Boston Family Boat Building provides underserved students in Boston-area public schools with the resources necessary to get out of the classroom and approach learning from a fresh, experiential angle. Specifically, the program offers both students and their families hands-on learning opportunities in the field of sailing. And with its year-round approach, the program allows participants to engage in a range of diverse activities.

Boston Family Boat Building (now renamed Community Boat Building) provides underserved students in Boston-area public schools with the resources necessary to get out of the classroom and approach learning from a fresh, experiential angle. Specifically, the program offers both students and their families hands-on learning opportunities in the field of sailing. And with its year-round approach, the program allows participants to engage in a range of diverse activities.

A Unique Approach to Learning

Amateur boat builder John Rowse, a former fifth-grade Boston Public School teacher, founded Boston Family Boat Building in 2005. Rowse saw the need for students to be able to engage in a different type of learning, one with more of a creative, hands-on focus. After delving deeper into studies describing how kids take in knowledge, Rowse gained a thorough appreciation for the benefits afforded to students who are given the ability to practice thinking spatially. 

“Rather than just learning to read and write, you can think in broader terms,” he explains. “You can see behind something, under something, around something. You can see a two-dimensional drawing and be able to imagine the three-dimensional shape.” Combining real world participation and academics allows students to thrive as they expand their knowledge and develop important spatial thinking skills. 

According to the former teacher, many students in urban public schools do not receive the opportunity to experience learning through spatial thinking. This is just one of the reasons Rowse felt it was important to develop a program that would allow underserved students to obtain these necessary skills.

An Out-of-Classroom Experience

Fall, winter, and spring activities are offered to Boston Public Schools with individual classrooms dividing students into groups of 5 or 6. During the fall, students learn how to read a map and compass in preparation for their time in the water. By the time winter rolls around, they are ready to begin construction on a 10-foot flat iron rowing skiff. 

To end the year, as a color scheme is needed to bring the boat building to completion, the youth investigate how traditional fishing and boating communities have painted their vessels. Rowse explains that the color schemes and designs often reflect a strong cultural connection to religion or history. This research portion of the program helps the young participants make connections between their boat building activities and current events and geography. 

Each year, youth in the Boston Family Boat Building interview descendants of African-Americans who were previously involved in the maritime industry. This provides students with the additional skills of completing primary source research.  

Being a fiscal sponsorship client with TSNE MissionWorks allows an organization to focus more on their meaningful community-oriented goals, rather than on administrative tasks. When asked about how TSNE fiscal sponsorship has made a difference in his organization, Rowse stated, “I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”

Having served over 125 students since its inception, Boston Family Boat Building continues to challenge and engage students in their process of learning. Not only is this program unique to Boston, but it provides a foundation for vision and success.

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