Giving An Opportunity For Young People To Develop Skills and Sense Of Self

Do you know what noble deed the Wooden Boat Factory in Philadelphia is doing?

Established in 1996, the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory aims to provide after-school and summer vacation projects for economically disadvantaged teenagers to develop practical skills in boat building as well as their sense of self worth.


The Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory provides young students the opportunity to learn boat building skills and their sense of self.

Apprentice Programs Offered By The Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory
The Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory’s (PWBF) teenage apprentices are involved in the maritime arts which include environmental sciences, competitive sailing and traditional wooden boat building. The programs are rooted in a strength-based approach to promote youth development. Two programs offered by the PWBF are designed to teach teenagers hands-on boat building and sailing (Boat, Build and Sail), and an opportunity to learn more about ecology, the Delaware River and its environment (Community Row Riverguides). Both programs are structured around an apprenticeship model where the students work closely with instructors and staff. The programs are open to students of:

  • Constitution High School
  • Marianna Bracetti Academy
  • Carver High School
  • Frankford High School

Students from 4 schools spend their after-school hours learning hands-on boat building lessons from instructors and seasoned boat builders of the Wooden Boat Factory.

Hands-On Boat Building Lessons
A group of teenagers are taught the process of using rivets to attach the wooden ribs and the boat’s hull togerther by Jesus Castro. Castro carefully explains and demonstrates each step, showing how the copper rivets fit together, the proper angle of the drill, when a hammer should be used and where the person holding the stop should be.


A group of teenagers are taught boat building skills as they work hands-on in building their own boat.

Students Discover New Skills
This is a typical scenario at the PWBF – five young boat builders set to work with the factory’s seasoned boat builders. Each of the students tries each task, switching roles and everyone strives to find the best solution. One of the students, a girl, tasked to clip excess wire from the rivet thought the job was for a boy because it required the strength of a boy. But when she finally got the rhythm after pounding a couple of rivets, she started clipping off the wire herself and never stopped until all the wires were clipped. Another group of students steamed and bent the boat’s ribs into place.  If the boat is to be river-worthy, the students will have to redo some of the work such as fixing loose rivets – no longer a big deal to this girl who just discovered her riveting skills.


Apprentice students at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory learn new skills.

Providing Opportunities For Young People To Make Contributions
According to the executive director of PWBF, Brett Hart, their programs are all about finding opportunities for young people to contribute and own up to the processes of change happening to them while learning at the factory. The programs will help them figure out the solutions to their own problems.


Discovering skills on the proper angle of the drill and how to use rivets are all part of the learning process at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory.

Recognized And Awarded By Susan Crown Exchange
This unique approach to give the students self-direction has been recognized by the Chicago-based Susan Crown Exchange, and PWBF recently won $100,000 as part of the Social and Emotional Learning Challenge of the Susan Crown Exchange.  And over the next 1 ½ years, the group is set to work with the Weikart Center for Youth Program Policy to create a “field guide” that will help future organizations in pursuing similar programs using the best practices. And for the Wooden Boat Factory to be included in the core group, it’s a big thing.

Learning The Concept Of Failing Well
For Castro and Hart, the backbone of the philosophy in teaching the students is built around the idea of “failing well”. As most teenagers experience failures in an academic setting with the usual failing grade viewed as catastrophic and irreparable, the PWBF takes a more realistic and positive approach by allowing the students to do something wrong in order to learn how important it is to do right.  At the end of the day, the students accomplish something they are proud of.

Shouldn’t there be more like the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory in this country?

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Sean Thomas

Is a former sports blogger who has interest in marketing and entrepreneurship. When he’s not studying the paths of successful startups, he enjoys hiking with his dogs and spending time with his wife.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 1 comments

Why is it that I can’t easily find an apprentice program for a boat building in South Florida – where boating, para-sailing, fishing, are all major activities, whether it be leisure or business? This type of program is readily available in a state where the waters are frigid each winter. I would love to find a program like this where I can learn a new skill. Of course, I would prefer to be paid during my training.


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