21 Aug 2014
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Floating their Boats

Newark students build, launch their own watercraft Saturday

Bearing names like “Zippy” and “The Dream Streak,” a small fleet of boats built by Newark public school students set sail at a pond at Branch Brook Park Saturday.

The boats were built with assistance from Project U.S.E. (Urban Suburban Environments), a 40-year-old organization that specializes in “experiential” teaching methods, where students learn via hands-on lessons.

This is the sixth year Project U.S.E. has helped local students construct watercraft. This year, more than 100 students ranging in age from fourth graders to high schoolers took part. The schools taking part this year were N. 13th Street Tech, Louise Spencer, University Heights, Discovery and Newark Educators.

“By our math this will be ships 35 through 39, and so far we haven’t had one sink,” Mike Bagley, executive director of Project U.S.E., said shortly before Saturday’s launch, which was held at a pond at the Adubato Sports Complex.

The watercraft took several months to complete, during weekly session where a U.S.E. instructor worked with teachers and students in the classroom constructing the craft from maritime-grade wood and epoxy. In building the boats, students learned a variety of lessons, said Marie Pasquariello, a U.S.E. staffer.

The students had to master concepts like density and buoyancy, art, basic construction methods, and even vocabulary -- one of the craft Saturday was adorned with words like “charisma” and “convivial.”

Before the launch Saturday, students from each team of builders gave a brief speech, describing their experience on a project that would test their real-world skills.

“Today marks the end of a journey we began in September,” said 11-year-old Sierra Spencer. “When I told my mom what we were doing she couldn’t believe fifth-graders could build a boat.”

But they could. Spencer’s craft, along with the  four others, were brought to the waterside and launched, each with two to three students inside rowing (one boat was also built with an electric motor), as officers from the marine unit of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office looked on from their own craft.

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