From Plywood to Masterpiece: Inspiring NYC Middle-Schoolers through Sailing

I find the late spring and early summer to be one of the most exciting times of the year. The school year is coming to a close, and many programs are wrapping up. At the same time, we are beginning to enjoy the long summer days, turning our thoughts to vacation, travel, and (for me) the sailing season, which is well underway. This spring, I had the great pleasure of attending events with some of the organizations we support. Each one gave me a heartfelt “thank you” for the grants that the Regatta made last fall—a thank you that I want to pass on to you because you are the source of the support we provide. My friend and colleague, Dmitry Kushnirsky, joined me for the Brooklyn Boatworks spring gala, and it is my pleasure to share his report on the fantastic programs they have put together.

From the Classroom to the East River: Transformative Learning in Action

We all remember that one influence that made the little lightbulb over our heads flicker on. It may have been watching someone play an instrument in a way we had never heard before, or seeing a painting, or perhaps just the faith and patience of a teacher or mentor who gently guided us to follow our calling. Whatever it was it likely involved taking the ordinary and transforming it into something that transcends the everyday.

It is precisely this ah-ha moment that Brooklyn Boatworks utilizes to guide teens to an extraordinary future with their Career Exploration Program. The program connects NYC middle school kids with hands-on opportunities that they would not have experienced otherwise. Over the course of months, the kids in the program build an optimist sailing dinghy, launch it into the East River, and sail it. The experience of transforming a sheet of plywood and some sailcloth into a working boat is an enriching experience that is different from the typical pedagogy. The kids learn to use tools to shape the physical world and to apply theory to real-world problems. They are exposed to maritime history and the associated trades that are still excellent and lucrative career choices today.

Graduates have gone on to pursue careers in aviation, underwater welding, and as commercial skippers. They have learned patience, and teamwork and developed self-confidence all while creating something beautiful and having fun. A principal in one of the participating schools has said

“We love this program and are blessed to be part of it. Your teachers bring out the very best in our children – their smiles, their curiosity and the team spirit that we foster within our school community.”

The program has been an incredible success and as the adage goes who can argue with that?

Getting back to the ah-ha moment, the day all the theory and hard work culminate into the joy of sailing the boat you made with your own hands. The boat launch, which was once a single-day event has grown into a 3-day extravaganza taking place at Pier 4 Beach in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Come to Brooklyn Boatworks Fleet Week to see the joy on the kids’ faces of discovering the extraordinary. Some of the boats to keep an eye out for, Big Wave Warriors from MS 50 in Williamsburg and Evolocian from the kids at MS 935 in downtown Brooklyn, and of course SS Croquette from K351 The Urban Assembly Unison, in Clinton Hill.

Fleet Week 2024

Dates: Tuesday, 6/11 – Thursday, 6/13
Time: 10 am – 3 pm each day, rain or shine
Where: Pier 4 Beach, Brooklyn Bridge Park

If you come you will see firsthand where the investment, you help the New York Architects Regatta make in organizations like Brooklyn Boatworks pay off. You will see the smiles and the excitement on the kids’ faces which always happens during a fun day of launching boats on the East River. What may be less obvious is that by participating in the Career Exploration Program a foundation has been laid to connect those same smiling kids with skills and opportunities that are life-altering.

you can learn more about Brooklyn Boatworks here: