Boat-building project teaches 4-H students skills for the future

August 31, 2016
 Members of the OSU Extension’s 4-H Makers club launch the sailboat they made by hand. Photo by Ann Murphy.
Members of the OSU Extension’s 4-H Makers club launch the sailboat they made by hand. Photo by Ann Murphy.

PORTLAND, Ore. –In a small conference room at Portland Community College’s Southeast campus, a dozen middle school students turned a pile of wood into a 12-foot sailboat.

The feat was accomplished by members of the Oregon State University Extension Service’s Makers 4-H club, which was formed in 2014 to give kids in Southeast Portland a chance to participate in an after-school program in an area where few existed.

The students built the boat under the tutelage of staff from partner Wind & Oar Boat School. In the process, they put new skills to work helping to design and engineer the boat. Construction started in September 2015 and wrapped up in January. The boat was launched Aug. 13 at Willamette Sailing Club.

“Each week they got to explore nautical terminology, buoyancy, lofting, angular design and marine architecture,” said Stacey Sowders, Extension 4-H outreach coordinator. “We intended to give them new experiences, which we expected to increase their self-confidence.”

Raxlee Rax, who is about to start his freshman year at Franklin High School, said it worked for him. “I really think this program has boosted my confidence toward building something or designing something or making something happen. And I think it will spill over into other parts of my life.”

Typically, extracurricular programs are held at school sites. Because the Makers 4-H club is on the PCC campus, it can pull students from several middle schools in the area, allowing them to connect with new kids and adults. Being on campus also increases their chance of going to college, according to Sowders.

“Bringing someone in to talk about their college and career experiences to the kids is one thing,” she said. “But if they get to walk on a college campus they can see themselves there.”

Dani IV, a 14-year-old who participated in the boat-building project, said she’s more prepared for college now and appreciates that much of what she learned will help guide her to schools that have good programs in science, technology, engineering and math. Someday she’d like to be an engineer.

Most of the kids in the Makers club don’t have access to STEM-oriented activities, said Tanya Kindrachuk, Extension club coordinator and a former 4-H member. She’s watched the middle-school students respond with enthusiasm to the boat-building project as well as one designing a computer game.

“I feel like they’re having a blast or they wouldn’t show up, and pretty much all the kids show up every time,” she said. “If I had this when I was in middle school, I would have loved it. I’m having a blast now at 20 years old.”

Parents and siblings also get to experience some of the fun. During the Friday sessions, they come to see the latest developments and ask questions. It’s a time for the kids to connect with family, proudly showcase the work they’re doing and show off their new skills, Kindrachuck said.

For this school year, Sowders is considering a Makers club activity involving computers and programming. For now, Sowders is still assessing the impact of the boat-building project.

“The biggest success was when Dani’s mom told me she bought Dani a bookcase and asked her if she wanted help putting it together. And Dani said, ‘No, I know how to do this and I’ve used all these tools,’ Sowders said. 

“I wanted the kids to learn new skills, but even more to learn how to meet challenges,” she added. “I don’t care if they remember how to build a boat, but I want them to go away feeling empowered to meet challenges.”

Author: Kym Pokorny
Source: Stacey Sowders