Newt Builds

New Direction Youth Team

Odessa, TX

Dear Mr. Jordan,
You had asked me to provide some commentary concerning our New Direction program and the wooden boat project that we tackled this last January. New Direction is a short-term program that our school district offers for students 7th grade through high school that is designed to help them transition back to the traditional school setting after having been placed for various reasons in a more restrictive educational setting such as home-bound, disciplinary placements, etc..
We focus on getting them ready for the rigors of the classroom, as well as preparing them for the social dynamics they will meet once back on their home campus. We spend a great deal of time building social skills, and that is where the idea of building a boat and the teamwork that would be required to do it was launched. We have spent many hours building small, personal projects and really was looking for a bigger project that everyone could offer his/her particular expertise that would contribute to the project, whether it be drawing, math, art, a good eye, a steady hand, an encouraging attitude – everything would be valued as making the project a success.
We weren’t really sure what we were getting into, but decided to follow the sometimes sound wisdom of, “Always bite off more that you can chew.” There were many times when we thought we had done so. However, as the days turned into weeks, and then months, the pile of wood started to take on the shape of a boat, and the lookers began to stop by more often and to inquire and dream along with us of the day we would launch her. We have never had as many parents interested in what we were doing in class as this project brought us. It was wonderful for all of us. On the day we presented our project, my supervisor after seeing all of the teachers, counselors, students and their parents, together visiting, laughing, sharing, simply said to me, “You did good.” He was right. To quote Ratty from Kenneth Grahame’s book, The Wind in the Willows, “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing, as simply messing about in boats.”
We all worked approximately three months for one hour a day to construct our little jewel. Thanks to a set of plans drawn with the beginner in mind we were able to build a most perfect canoe (in our eyes anyway) utilizing only few hand tools and some big aspirations. The tools used were: jig saw, mitre saw, coping saw, drill, plane, files, hammers, clamps, screwdrivers, palm sanders, and paint brushes. We hand planed all angles from the frames to the stems. We used copious amounts of elbow grease and sweat to finish each piece of the “jig-saw puzzle” as we affectionately referred to “NEWT” during the construction phases. I would joke with the kids that although we only had 306.60 in materials, their “sweat equity” would require a few thousand dollars if we were ever to sell her! We ended up having approx. 148hrs. construction time combined — which equals 148 hours of FUN as we see it! Do we want to do another one next year? Definitely.
I plan on applying for a grant from our district’s Education Foundation for the next one. I had considered applying before, but wasn’t sure if we could actually pull it off and be successful. What a stunner! The project didn’t disappoint. We haven’t met one person from teachers, custodians, counselors, supervisors, school maintenance, parents, passers-by that haven’t marveled at what these kids accomplished. They built a boat, in a classroom, in a desert, and hauled it 60 miles to the water and paddled a canoe, not unlike Native Americans and explorers of long ago. And we all learned so much along the way!
This boat building project launched countless dreams in my classroom. It helped some kids see a part of themselves they may have never seen. Thank you for designing a simple, yet worthy design that allowed my amateur boatwrights to invest their time into a boat they are proud to have created. We are proud.

Thanks for your interest.

Best Regards,
David Lackey