Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory

One non-profit attempts to teach at-risk youth how to succeed in high school and beyond.

Sultaan Brinkley, center, works on the boat with Jesus Castro, the Artist in Residence, left, Erin Ivey and Mohammed Chowdhury at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory in Northeast Philadelphia.

For the summer, Yamir Adens, a rising high-school senior, who lives in a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood, uses nails and a hammer to build a boat.

Adens is putting his education to work. For $7.25 an hour.

Kim Stewart, a teacher, works with Yamir Adens and Richard Jones to make benches to easier build boats. Adens has been coming to the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory for over 4 years and says it is a big part of his life so far. “It’s not like school, which makes your head hurt all the time. But here, you still learn but it’s a different kind of learning, one that exercises a different part of your brain. It’s still challenging,” he says.

He has been working at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory for longer than anyone else — since 8th grade. He likes working with his hands and the

Theo Collins, the science director, lets students work on their personal research projects. Projects range from photographing other students working to testing the water quality of the Delaware River.

accomplishment of finishing a boat. He and several other students from similarly low-income Philadelphia neighborhoods are paid minimum wage to either take on an apprenticeship in boat building or learn science to teach the community about ecology and the environment.

Andy Cintron, a teacher, explains how to sharpen a tool to Nile Haile-Ivy Winters. “I like working with my hands. That’s what brought me here. But then after being here, getting to know students and building students up… and making a boat out of nothing is just awesome,” he says.
Mohammed Chowdhury runs a piece of wood from a steamer to mold into and attach to the interior the boat.

The organization is keeping at-risk future generations engaged, learning and safe in spite of a severely underfunded public school system. The nonprofit serves many of the lower-income neighborhoods in the city by paying students ages 14–21 after school and during the summer to learn. Since the state budget has yet to be passed, the school district has yet to receive the $400 million expected from the state this school year.

The employees at Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory attempt to engage with their students and prevent high school dropouts, raise their confidence levels and encourage positive social interactions.

Theo Collins, the science director, talks about the ecosystem of the Delaware River. The River Guides students all work on independent science projects based around the Delaware River, and use the boats the other half of the program builds to collect data and do experiments.
“The end goal is much more than carpentry and science.” Theo Collins, the science director, said. “It’s about engaging the students, and teaching them confidence and life skills.”
Sultaan Brinkley takes a break while working under the boat at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory.

Yamir Adens talks of the Wooden Boat Factory like it’s home. He’s been working so long he considers himself a mentor to newer students. He values the ability to learn math and science through the process of building a boat over learning in a classroom.

Theo Collins talks to Jayla McKinney about her independent project. According to Collins, a recent education trend is teaching social and emotional learning. He tries to give students a space where they feel physically as well as emotionally safe.
“This place is really special to me. I’ve been here a long time. This is pretty much my childhood right here.” Adens said.
(Left to right) Richard Jones, Yamir Adens and Windmon Tan laugh on the couch. Adens says the people at Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory have helped his social skills and team working skills. He claims the work is a great way to learn math and help with logic skills.