Captain Ahab had the Pequod. Santiago had his skiff. The Goonies had the Inferno. A group of 16 students from Vancouver Flex Academy and iTech Preparatory had their wooden drift boat.

But only one of the above actually built their watercraft.

It took the students three weeks during late summer to construct the 16-foot vessel in iTech Prep’s fabrication lab. Working with staff members from the nonprofit Wind & Oar Boat School, the budding shipwrights learned the age-old craft firsthand. “It’s just piece by piece. Then all of a sudden there’s this boat-shaped object,” says iTech seventh-grader Mya Raunig.

In contrast to learning at the students’ high-tech schools, where all pupils have individual laptops, the drift boat called predominately for hand tools to shape the curved surfaces. It was the first time using a hand plane for Flex senior Blake Mathes, who also found other surprises. “I didn’t really like geometry, but now, because I’ve put it toward building a boat, it is actually fun,” he says.

Working together also was a first. “But even though we’re from two different schools, we had a lot in common dealing with what we were doing. We connected on a lot of things,” Flex senior Trystin Rochel explains.

By the time the boat was completed, just one uncertainty remained: Would it float?

Absent a navigable body of water on school grounds, the drift boat was transported from iTech Prep to the swimming pool located in the nearby Jim Parsley Education, Family and Community Center. The students and spectators cheered when the boat was placed on the water, and again as two students began rowing.

In addition to providing summertime fun and education, the project was the unofficial start of project-based learning at Flex Academy, a blended learning high school where students work at their own pace and balance online coursework with face-to-face interaction with teachers and peers. Project-based learning also is common at iTech, a middle and high school focused on science, technology, engineering and math. This year, Flex and iTech teachers will begin collaborating to share ideas.

The boat will sail to a new owner, once sold by Wind & Oar, which supplied the materials and tools. But the knowledge and enthusiasm for the craft still are afloat. Says Rochel, “I’m definitely going to sign up again if I can!”


–VPS Communications Staff