Bill Sheridan is looking for a few new boat builders. No experience is necessary; fifth- or sixth-graders preferred.
“That seems to be about the right age where they can handle the tools and the math,” he said Monday as he worked with a small group of students to shape an 18-foot canoe under construction at the Haleyville-Mauricetown School in Commercial Township.
A second group of students at the Bridgeton Middle School are also building canoes, and Sheridan is looking for a couple more schools or youth groups to get involved in the Building Kids Program, which culminates in a launch, races and picnic on the township’s Lake Audrey in June.
Sheridan began building boats several years ago with students at the Wood School in Millville, where he was the principal. When he retired in 2009 he expanded the boat project to other schools working with the Bayshore Discovery Center and Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and its Tributaries.
Those groups provide the volunteers and tools. Schools or other sponsors are asked to pay for materials, about $500 per boat for the marine plywood, wood trim protective glasses and dust masks.
The group has built sailboats in the past, but this year is building 18-foot Peace Canoes using plans from Chesapeake Light Craft.
“We first started with a kit, but I think the students learn more working from plans,” Sheridan said. Each canoe holds six students or three adults. The Haleyville-Mauricetown students are building two canoes.
Teacher Karen Golway said she was initially a bit apprehensive about having her students use power tools, but they listened well, and there have been no problems.
“Some of the parents had a hard time believing we were actually going to build boats,” she said. “But the students love it. They know Monday is boat-building day, so Monday is always a good day.”
Sheridan and volunteers typically visit the school once a week, staying for about an hour and a half each time. On Monday he was joined by Dave Fenili of Vineland and Dave Zane of Dividing Creek. They are currently building indoors, but will move the boats outside as soon as the weather warms up.
“I want them to learn how to use tools,” said Fenili. “These are all practical skills they can use all their lives.”
“Some had never hammered a nail before,” said Zane, adding that students also learn to take turns and work together.
Students have favorite activities. Brianna Gilman, 8, likes the jigsaw because she loves loud noises.
Emerson Fisher, 11, needed a couple of breaks, but worked diligently to saw off an excess piece of wood.
“This the first thing I’ve ever built, and the biggest,” said Steven Brenoskie, 9, who wants to name one boat the Alaska Dart because it’s shaped kind of like a dart at the end, and he likes snow.
Golway has incorporated math, measurement and language arts into the project. Students have been working on sequential writing and the process of building the boat provides a good example.
Students have also learned to tie knots, and are making their own paddles and decorative plaques for the side of the boat following the peace theme. Sheridan said they have extra activities to make sure all of the students can be busy all the time and play an active part in the process.
Brenden Jones, 10, explained they have to sand the plaques a lot to make them smooth.
On Monday students discussed and drew their designs for the peace plaques. Brenoskie made musical notes because he likes to listen to music. Malachi Forrest picked the sun because he likes to be outside. Skylar Keeney, 11, after demonstrating her expertise at tying knots, drew herself in a yoga pose..
Fisher chose a video game, not everyone’s idea of a peaceful topic.
“Maybe you might want to think of something in nature,” Fenili suggested. Fisher thought a second, then shook his head.
“No, video games are good for me,” Fisher said.
(Schools or youth groups interested in participating in the program can contact Emily Floore at the Bayshore Discovery Center at (856) 785-2060)
Contact Diane D'Amico: