Incoming No. Providence High freshmen graduate from summer boatbuilding program

Incoming No. Providence High freshmen graduate from summer boatbuilding program

Some of the North Providence teens who participated in the Youth Summer Boatbuilding Program take a sailboat out for a spin on the Wenscott Reservoir before their graduation ceremonies last Thursday. (Breeze photos by Nancy Kirsch)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Never in Richard Torti’s wildest dreams would he have envisioned allowing middle school students to use a table saw, the Youth Summer Boatbuilding Program instructor joked at a graduation ceremony last Thursday, Aug. 3.

Torti commended the 20 North Providence teens, all incoming high school freshmen, for their skills and acumen in using table saws, drills and other equipment to build a 14-foot Zest racing dinghy, construct some model boats and a dock, and repair canoes during the six-week program.

Before official ceremonies began, several students sailed and canoed the Wenscott Reservoir at Notte Park. Torti’s fellow instructors were Matt Moniz, a tech education teacher at Ricci Middle School, and Henry Marciano, a retired teacher from Providence.

Enrolling a total of 49 students this summer, with smaller cohorts in Bristol, Newport and Tiverton, the program is designed to promote youth engagement, industry awareness and skill-building, career readiness and science, technology, engineering and math connections and reduce student dropout rates. The Rhode Island Marine Trades Association coordinates the summer program, which receives support from an array of government and for-profit and nonprofit entities. Thirty students applied for the 20 spots available in the North Providence program.

While Torti doesn’t view the program’s overall goal as directing students into marine industry careers, he said, “We’re the Ocean State; why not have that opportunity for the kids?”

Torti views the summer program’s hands-on approach to teaching math and science as critically important, and says he appreciates that it challenges participants who attended Birchwood Middle School’s Marine Academy, where he teaches technical boat-building skills and math. Ricci Middle School has a more modest after-school marine program, and North Providence High School recently launched its own marine technology program.

Participants enjoyed the program’s practical elements. Sarah DiCarlo said she especially enjoyed building the Zest sailboat. Aneillo Broccoli, who was wrapping up his third year with the summer program, loved working with the wood, building the boat and sailing. While Broccoli said he can envision a career building boats, Amelia Davis isn’t focusing on career opportunities just yet. Davis, who enjoyed learning to use power tools and the appropriate way to paint and varnish, said she appreciated learning to work with others. Every project, even small ones, required working as teams, rather than individually, she said.

Though participants this summer sailed at Fort Adams and toured the Newport Shipyard and the International Yacht Restoration School, it wasn’t all fun and games.

“There was a lot of learning going on this summer,” said Torti, noting that the Zest plans, purchased from boat designer Richard Woods in England, contained glitches that challenged students and instructors alike. Just as future employers will do, Torti, Moniz and Marciano expected participants to show up on time, be ready to work, and work hard.

Based on attendance and performance, each student was eligible to earn up to $100 per week and was given a toolkit, valued at $100, said Brian Dursi, RIMTA workforce development coordinator.

The Zest, which is built for speed and to be ocean-worthy, is not ready to sail, as it still needs to be sanded, varnished and painted. Torti said participants aren’t frustrated by the delay.

“They’re all so close; they always come back … and we’ll take it sailing next summer,” he said.

Marciano brought the marine education concept to North Providence several years ago, said Mayor Charles Lombardi. He and other officials agreed that a program encouraging attendance and participation might address Birchwood Middle School’s absenteeism. Not everyone comes to school and wants to put their head in a book, said Lombardi, who called Marciano “a pioneer.” He noted that North Providence is the third Rhode Island city with such a program. Now, attendance has improved and Birchwood’s Marine Academy has more than 100 students, said Lombardi, who views the summer program as a natural outgrowth of Marine Academy students’ enthusiasm and passion.

“The boats are merely a metaphor; if they can build a boat and put their minds to something and see what they can accomplish, they start believing in themselves,” said Marciano. “That’s the whole purpose of this program.”

Before certificates were handed out to the students, Marciano hailed Torti and Moniz for the work they’ve done.

“It’s about good teachers; without these guys, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

Among those funding the program are the Workforce Partnership of Greater Rhode Island, the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, the Governor’s Workforce Board, Real Jobs RI, school districts and donations from industries and individuals, said Wendy Mackie, RIMTA’s chief executive officer, in an email. Real Jobs RI, a state initiative, allocated $83,340 of this summer’s overall program cost of approximately $98,000 for 49 students, and North Providence provided hot lunches for the local students and matching funds for instructors, said Mackie.

This 14-foot sailboat was built by 20 North Providence teens as part of the Youth Summer Boatbuilding Program.
Students in the Youth Summer Boatbuilding Program in North Providence demonstrate their teamwork as they bring a sailboat safely to shore on the Wenscott Reservoir before last Thursday’s graduation ceremonies.