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Focus on Frankford: Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory

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The Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory (PWBF) is one of the oldest tenants at the Globe Dye Works, on Worth Street at Kinsey.  While the word “factory” brings to mind a mass production facility, in fact this is an educational program for high school students. students

Founded in 1996, Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory provides hands-on maritime-based educational programs.  Using an experiential learning approach grounded in Frankford’s historic connection to the river, PWBF’s programs are engaging youth to learn about themselves and prepare for the future.  The organization’s boatbuilding and on-water programs blend physical strength and endurance with problem solving and academic enrichment, and help students develop the resiliency and tenacity to succeed in the transition to adulthood.

Geoffrey McKonly founded the organization in 1996 because few developmental opportunities existed for underperforming and economically disadvantaged youth. He saw a need for a program that could provide youth with meaningful activities that would be central to academic achievement, and also address the needs of students that are often not met at home or in school. When students are working with their hands and learning woodworking and a variety of maritime skills, they are engaged in dynamic activities that blend physical strength and endurance with problem solving and academic enrichment that leads to success and personal growth.

Brett Hart, the organization’s Executive Director grew up in Frankford, on Hawthorne Street not far from the Globe.  He is a Tall Ship Captain and wooden boat builder with eight years experience working with at-risk youth from Philadelphia. Prior to joining PWBF, Brett was employed by the Los Angeles Maritime Institute going to sea with teenage students from East Los Angeles. He was the Captain and Director of Maritime Education for Philadelphia City Sail on board their 75′ Schooner North Wind, traveling for extended periods with Philadelphia teenagers.

Shop1Also on the team are Victoria Guidi, Program Director and Andrew Cintron, Program Assistant.

At present, there are 48 students enrolled in two programs. The programs are at capacity drawing participants from all over the city. Students participate in one of the two programs: the Community Row Riverguides program or the Boat Build & Sail program.

Community Row participants are given the opportunity to learn about the local watershed and to explore the quiet stretch of the northern Delaware River using the PWBF fleet of rowing vessels. Riverguides empowers students to become teachers and environmental advocates, and to organize riparian zone restoration projects. Riverguides work with the science staff to build and deliver interactive, hands-on lesson plans for the Community Row Program. Riverguides work within to restore local ecosystems and rebuild riparian zones along the fragile northern Delaware River, at present focused on Lardners Point park at the foot of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.

Boat Build and Sail is a year-round (after-school and summer) program that offers students the opportunity to participate in project based learning in the fields of wooden boat building and competitive sailboat racing. The program is equal parts competitive one design racing and traditional wooden boat building apprenticeship. Students begin with the building of the organization’s “Factory One-Design”, and stay on to campaign the boat with their teammates from the on-water facility at the Frankford Arsenal boat Ramp.

Learning to build and sail a boat is both fun and challenging. Each semester students begin by examining the project’s driving question: “What are the things I will learn during the building and sailing of a wooden boat that will help me in other aspects of my life?” In the months that follow, as students continue the process of re-defining their answer to this question, they develop a toolkit of 21st century skills that will be invaluable as they make the transition into post-secondary education.boat1

The PWBF will be participating in Factory on Focus at Philadelphia Museum of Art on May 21st.  The students will be on hand to display the Factory One Design craft that they built last year (color purple) which was designed by the well known small boat designer Antonio Dias.  It will be on display in the grand hall at the museum.  A true work of Art.