The Independence Seaport Museum sits on the banks of the Delaware River in the heart of downtown Philadelphia. Like most museums, it preserves artifacts of the past, but the Independence Seaport Museum is also preserving skills. It has an active boatshop, Workshop on the Water, that is bringing the traditions of wooden boat building to the city’s youth. Among the programs at the shop is SAILOR—Science and Arts Innovative Learning on the River—for middle and high-school students. Groups of 10 to 14 students build small boats learning STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and the boats go to the museum’s community boating program fleet.
This past year 103 students from five local schools built two skiffs designed by the museum’s president, John Brady. The Harbor Master Skiffs are 11’6” long and have a beam of 4’. They’re flat-bottomed rowing boats meant for beginning rowers on calm waters. Plans for the skiff are not available for sale, but the museum offers drawings and plans for over 80 boats native to the Delaware River, the Schuylkill River, Delaware Bay, and the North Jersey shore.
Alor Henderson was one of the students who built the skiffs—KRAKEN and THE G.O.A.T.—that were launched this year. Before joining SAILOR, she didn’t know too much about the program “except my school told me it was a four-year program with a STEM focus, and I love math. Building a boat sounded interesting and different. I don’t often get to experience water, so to learn how to build a boat and then launch it in the Delaware River basin was a new experience for me. I’ve learned patience, as we have to pay attention to key details.”
Kawthar Aguivi was encouraged to join the SAILOR program by her soccer coach. “He told me it was going to involve a lot of engineering, and I really like engineering and have always been interested in the subject. I also thought it would be a fun way to make new friends. I learned how to work better with a team. When I was in middle school I didn’t like working in groups; this project taught me how to work with a team and what being a good leader to my teammates means. I like that I can learn how to build something I never thought I’d know how to build. I was so excited when I found out that we would be building a skiff this year. It helps me determine what I like and don’t like within the engineering field. Participating in this program has confirmed that I want to pursue engineering in the future.”
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