Sponsored: Portland, OR. When Donovan arrived at the Wind & Oar Boat classroom at Merlo Station High School in the fall of 2016, he was under fed, exhausted, and stressed from family care-taking responsibilities. He was carrying a full-time class load, working full-time at night, and trying to stay on track to graduate. He admits, “It was one of the hardest times of my life.”

Realizing that he was on an unsustainable track, he worked with his school counselors to adjust his priorities, allowing him to reduce in-school time, work the full-time job, and get rested. Fortunately, the school permitted him to attend the Wind & Oar “Boat Geometry” class, which meets two and a half hours a day, Monday through Friday. Donovan’s attendance was nearly perfect and as he says, “Being able to come to class every day and work on building something with my hands, and create something really helped me get through it, to make me want to come to school more…”

Wind & Oar Boat School engages students in learning by connecting hands and mind in relevant exercise of academic subjects. Math, science, and engineering are all integrated into crafting a wooden boat.

Finding relevance in math, creating with one’s hands, discovering inner resources like: critical thinking, collaborating, and communicating, are all a result of building a boat in a team setting. This is what Wind & Oar accomplishes with students in 5th grade through high school.

Getting students to actually come to school is a huge hurdle, and one that profoundly affects success in the classroom. It may seem obvious that attendance is critical. What is not so obvious is that absenteeism starts early, as does the track to dropping out. By 5th grade, many students destined to drop out 4 or 5 years later can already be identified. It is essential to engage these students and convince them that they can learn, and that they can become good learners.

Wind & Oar regularly runs a program for 5th graders at a Hillsboro elementary school. Roger Will, the former principal there, related that attendance on Fridays, boat-building day, was 100%. In fact, on a particular Thursday, with a snow day looming for the next day, the 5th graders were begging that school not get cancelled because they would miss a boat-building day.

Wind & Oar successfully engages students in learning not only because the learning activity involves using one’s hands, making the topics relevant, but also because the teacher/student ratio is very low. At the high school level, we often have three instructors in the shop and classroom, and in elementary and middle school, four instructors for a class of 20 plus is common. These low ratios are important because students can connect with an interested adult with nearly individual attention, thereby reducing the tendency to disengage. This benefit, however, comes at a cost.

Staffing multiple, concurrent classes with instructors qualified to ask essential questions, operate from a growth mindset, and build a boat, is a steep hill to climb. Wind & Oar’s success is profound but the training and personality required of each instructor to achieve that success demands that we invest in unique individuals willing to take a risk on a growing nonprofit. We also need to invest in comprehensive professional development. Both require time and money.

With recent investments in Wind & Oar by a generous family foundation, we have significantly grown our infrastructure, thereby positioning ourselves to potentially offer more quality classes to metro area schools, as well as offering classes to the community at large. This growth in physical capacity, however, places immense strain on our human capacity, so if Wind & Oar is to deliver on its potential, and bring high quality, engaging classes to underserved students, we need support from our community.

Here’s how you can help!

Wind & Oar Boat School helps over 300 kids a year like Donovan. The nonprofit is working hard on fundraising as 2017 draws to a close. CLICK HERE for a link to the Wind & Oar Boat School donation page.

About Wind & Oar Boat School: Wind & Oar Boat School is an Oregon nonprofit, 501c3, youth development organization that engages young people and inspires learning through the art, science, and craft of building wooden boats. Our purpose is to promote self-confidence and perseverance in students’ approach to learning while increasing their ability to solve problems and apply conceptual knowledge to unique situations. Building wooden boats is an innovative and unique platform for developing an array of academic, practical, and social skills. Our projects provide space to develop critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity, essential skills for success in school and career. Through the integrated curriculum linking math, science, and design skills to wooden boat construction students gain practical woodworking skills and understand the application and relevance of academic skills. Most importantly, students gain confidence and embrace their own potential to learn, now and into the future.