Destiny Kendrix, a junior in the Pathways Alternative Education program at Old Orchard Beach High School, sands the side of a 16-foot cedar strip canoe in a school workshop. Kendrix spent the fall dreading going to school, but at the start of the second semester she joined the program for students at risk of not graduating. “Now I love school” because of the boat project, she said. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Destiny Kendrix spent the fall semester dreading going to school.

Then the 16-year-old junior at Old Orchard Beach High School joined the Pathways Alternative Education program and heard about “the boat.”

Shane Collins, a freshman in the Alternative Education program at Old Orchard Beach High School, sands excess glue from the planks on the side of a 16-foot cedar strip canoe in a workshop at the high school. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Since September, the 11 students in the Pathways program have been piecing together a 16-foot cedar-strip canoe that they anticipate will be ready to launch in the fall. It is the first in a small fleet that they plan to build for the school.

Kendrix, who joined the program for students at risk of not graduating at the start of the second semester, quickly fell in love with working on the boat. In a workshop at the back of the school, she spent hours piecing together strips of western red cedar.

“Now I love school,” Kendrix said as she sanded excess glue from the side of the canoe. “I look forward to working on the boat.”

The alternative education program has been in place for 18 years to help students who are at risk of not graduating because they are short credits. Superintendent John Suttie said the school wanted to add an experiential learning component to the program that would engage students who have different learning styles.

“Sometimes in our public educational setting, we really haven’t had many choices to offer kids who don’t do well sitting in a traditional classroom,” said Suttie, who is also the high school principal. “Some kids do better by doing.”

Wiley Muller, a teacher in the Alternative Education program at Old Orchard Beach High School, shows students Dale Lord, Shane Collins and Destiny Kendrix, left to right, how to rough up the surface of blocks that will be glued together in a workshop at the high school on May 30. The blocks will be cut up and used in a 16-foot cedar strip canoe that the students are building. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

The district hired teacher Wiley Muller, who has a background in both experiential learning and six years of experience as a boat builder, to help enhance the program with co-teacher Mark Knowles by adding the canoe project.

“It’s a great opportunity for (students) to be successful,” Knowles said. “It will be a big day when we get it to the Saco River.”

Muller and Knowles ordered the canoe kit from a Canadian company and incorporated boat building into science, math, English and social studies lessons. They watched as the students learned to work together and take on leadership roles in the workshop.

“There is potential in every student, and for some reason they don’t think they have that potential. This gave them self-confidence,” Muller said. “We saw some pretty drastic changes.”

Dale Lord, a 16-year-old junior, was skeptical that he and his classmates could build a boat and initially thought it was boring to work on.

Glue runs from a slot in a block of wood as Dale Lord inserts a thin piece. Lord, who prefers hands-on learning over traditional classroom work, was chosen by his teachers as the Most Valuable Builder and placed the last plank on the canoe, a tradition that is considered an honor in boat building. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

“It looked nothing like a boat. None of us had faith we were going to do it,” he said. “When it started looking like a boat, I put 100 percent effort into it.”

Lord – a self-described popular kid who prefers hands-on learning over traditional classroom work – was chosen by his teachers as the Most Valuable Builder and placed the last plank on the boat, a tradition that is considered an honor in boat building.

“It feels good to know we all built that,” Lord said last week as he worked near the canoe.

As Kendrix and classmate Shane Collins, 14, sanded the sides of the canoe, Lord measured and cut blocks of wood that will become the deck plates. They worked together to put the blocks together, joking with Muller as he showed them how to pour the glue.

Collins, a freshman, hates sitting through classes so much that he often skipped school for extended periods of time.

“I didn’t like that stuff because it made me not want to go to school,” he said. “This gave me an incentive to come to school every day.”

Kendrix said it has been exciting to watch the canoe take shape and learn skills she never anticipated having. She feels motivated to learn to build other things.

“Now I’m not scared to ask how to do something,” she said. “That’s something I’ve always struggled with.”

Before the boat is ready for its maiden voyage, students need to finish sanding it, apply fiberglass and do other finishing details, like installing seats. Each student will wood-burn his or her name into the deck plate. Muller estimates they have about 60 hours of work to complete when classes resume after summer break.

The students and teachers will go to the water together for a ceremony to launch the boat – and Kendrix, Lord and Collins are determined to be the first ones in.

“We look at it and say ‘Hey, we built a boat we can use in the water,’ ” Collins said. “Not many high schoolers can say that.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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