Boatbuilding with At-Risk Youth – Jodi Carpenter (POY 03)

Boatbuilding with At-Risk Youth - Jodi Carpenter (POY 03)

Jodi Carpenter is a Maritime Educator who teaches boatbuilding and life skills to troubled teens on Lake Erie. Hear Jodi and Josh’s fun talk about her work.

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Monologue by Josh Morgan

This is The Plural of You, a podcast about people helping people. I’m Josh Morgan.

Jodi Carpenter is a Maritime Educator in Erie, Pennsylvania. She works with at-risk youth in The Boat Shop at Erie’s Bayfront Maritime Center, where she teaches high school students how to build and use small boats. This helps her students develop skills like teamwork and communication, and it provides them with opportunities to better themselves that they often can’t find elsewhere. I’ll play the conversation I had with her in a moment.

Before I do that, I’d like to bring up something that Adam Greenfield said in the last episode of this podcast. In case you haven’t heard that one yet, Adam and his friend, Chris Duderstadt, build and distribute benches in their San Francisco neighborhood in hopes of encouraging cooperation and friendliness among their neighbors. He made a statement related to community organizing that I’ve heard and read before, but something about the sentiment has stuck with me because it came from him. Maybe it was his accent [laughs], I don’t know, but here’s what he said.

“Everybody has something to contribute, be it time or skills or inspiration. Everybody has a part to play—or simply just turning up.”

Not only is that an inviting perspective of other people, but it reminded me of Jodi and her work as I was putting this episode together. I’ll explain why.

There’s a theory in the field of social psychology called social identity theory, and it was introduced in the late 1970’s by a man named Henri Tajfel. Tajfel proposed with this theory that the groups we belong to shape not only how we see ourselves but how we see other people. Examples of these groups can be based on all sorts of characteristics, and can range in size from our immediate families to groups of countries and beyond. Tajfel observed that the groups we belong to can inspire self-confidence, and that our group memberships overlap with one another to define who we are.

According to this theory, the confidence we draw from being associated with different groups generally comes at the expense of other groups. In other words, we look for ways to reduce other groups in our minds so that we can feel better about ourselves. Sports fans are an easy example of this, but group boundaries aren’t always that clear-cut. The more groups we feel part of, the more likely we are to have things in common with the people we come across, so when our team loses and we’re left out of the celebration, we can still find mutual respect with fans from the other side, depending on the characteristics we share with them. If you’ve ever heard of the terms in-groups and out-groups, this is the theory where those came from. In-groups are the groups we belong to, and out-groups are those we don’t.

A drawback of our tendency to cluster into groups like this is that we sometimes overemphasize similarities between our groupmates and ourselves, and then we exaggerate differences between ourselves and our out-groups—not necessarily in that order. This facilitates prejudices and stereotypes which, if left unchallenged, can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and social problems. Everyone sorts the people they encounter into imaginary categories to some extent, myself included, and that’s fine. What I want to make you aware of here is that you and I have to be cautious about assuming characteristics in other people to justify treating them negatively, or to justify bad things that happen to them. This line of thinking relies on the “us” versus “them” model, as Tafjel would have put it, in which we label ourselves and the groups we feel connected with as “we” or “us” and everyone else as “they” or “them”.

My point in bringing up social identity theory is based on what Adam said about everyone having a role to play in building a community. It may be true that we all harbor prejudices and suspicions about one another from time to time, but we have to keep these biases in check if we want to cultivate trust and compassion. So the next time you hear someone speaking ill of a group of people, don’t ask “What’s wrong with them?” and leave it at that. Instead, ask “Why isn’t anyone helping them?” or, better yet, “How can we help them?” with we being your group of choice. We as a species could solve a lot of our complaints about one another if more of us trained ourselves to think that way.

So back to Jodi Carpenter. Jodi works mostly with troubled teenagers, and that’s one of many groups which are often excluded from the perks our society has to offer—in many cases, for life. For many young people in this group, no amount of hard work or lucky breaks would ever help them catch up with the rest of society, and that’s where people like Jodi come in. She provides her students with a forgiving, patient, and trusting environment to learn new skills, and it’s working. She mentions that many of her former students have visited The Boat Shop after graduating to share their success stories with her, and it’s heart-warming to know that Jodi and the staff of the Bayfront Maritime Center helped to make those stories possible.

Jodi and I spoke face-to-face at her home in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. I’ve never recorded an interview in person before, so I’ve learned lots of little things about the process along the way. I appreciate how generous she was with her time, and I’m glad to share our conversation with you. Here’s Jodi Carpenter, Maritime Educator at the Bayfront Maritime Center.

Interview with Jodi Carpenter

JM: How’s it going today?

JC: Good.

JM: So you are a Maritime Educator, and you’re from Ohio. How does someone from Ohio become a Maritime Educator?

JC: Well, I grew up near Sandusky, so I grew up along Lake Erie. [I] went to school for Sculpture, so I have a B.F.A. I started teaching at-risk youth [in] downtown Dayton. [I] started teaching sculpture and woodworking after school, and did week-long workshops during the summer. Then I moved to Maine, and there was a boat shop position [where I] worked with at-risk [youth].

I sort of grew up around boats and was interested in boatbuilding.

JM: What lead you out to Maine?

JC: That’s a long series of events. [laughs]

JM: Oh, it is? Okay.

JC: Well, I’ve always really wanted to move to New England, and I knew two folks that lived in Portland. One was my best friend from growing up. I went to Portland thinking that I might move to Vermont, but once I got to Portland, I sort of felt like I had found my place.

JM: Oh, really?

JC: Well, Portland is a peninsula, so I’m surrounded on three sides by water. One thing I learned about myself when I moved from where I grew up to Dayton was I missed the water. I would just drive home to be by the lake.

JM: So you moved to Portland and back to Dayton.

JC: No, I moved from Dayton to Portland.

JM: Oh, I got it. Okay.

JC: Yeah. [laughs]

JM: And then Portland to here?

JC: And then Portland to here.

It’s funny. When I was growing up, I tried to get away from the lake. [I] tried to get as far away as I could, so I moved three hours south, just thinking, ‘Oh, Lake Erie sucks,’ you know—sort of being that angsty teenager. My life sort of brought me back to Lake Erie, which is an interesting—

JM: That is interesting.

JC: Yeah. If you would have asked me, you know, at age 16, or if you would have told me that I would have been a boatbuilder on Lake Erie, you know, at age 31, I would have never believed you.

It’s been sort of gradual. When I moved to Portland, I was working at a coffee shop for a couple of months. I met a guy who worked for Compass Project, which was the first youth boatbuilding organization that I worked for. He told me that I would get along really well with everybody in the workshop, so I started volunteering there. That’s how I originally got in.

I went down there, started volunteering, and one of the girls that worked there was looking for a roommate. I was looking to get out of the situation I was in, my living situation, so we moved in together within, like, two weeks. [laughs] He was totally right that I would just get along really well and fit in really well at the boat shop.

I started there as an AmeriCorp volunteer, and I did State and National AmeriCorp. That was how I originally became, like, a full-time employee there. When I first started, we had seven employees. Two were AmeriCorp VISTAs, two were AmeriCorp State and National.

JM: This was at the Compass Project?

JC: This was at the Compass Project.

Then the Recession hit. Everybody got laid off. Our programs got cut, our funding was cut. We scaled down to basically just the Executive Director and myself for a while. I was still an AmeriCorp volunteer. I signed on for another year [and] kept the programs going. It was a mess, and it was really hard. That was only my second year, so I felt like I really wasn’t ready for that job, but I pushed through.

But yeah. Compass Project still exists today, and that’s how I got my start. It was really just a guy saying, “I think you could do this! I think you’d get along well!” That guy’s Clint Chase, who is a good friend of mine [and] my mentor.

JM: Why did you want to learn how to build boats?

JC: I wanted to learn a craft of some sort. I wanted to learn a skill set. When I moved from Dayton to New England, I wanted to learn furniture making or some sort of craft. Boatbuilding was really intriguing to me, so I started volunteering, I started doing it, and stayed one step ahead of the kids. I mean, I didn’t know what I was doing when I first started. I sort of—I was an apprentice for the first year. I worked with kids doing it, though. I just asked questions. You kind of have to leave your ego at the door, you know? [laughs]

JM: I could see that, yeah.

JC: “I don’t know how to solve this problem! Let’s go ask!” You know? But that’s—looking back, what a great model for teaching youth to just ask questions and problem-solve and think on your feet, and get their ideas of how they think it should be fixed. It was—I don’t know. It was a great learning experience for me and helped me develop. I was, what? Twenty-four? Yeah, twenty-four when I started building boats.

JM: Now you’re at the Bayfront Maritime Center, but is The Boat Shop just one part of the Bayfront Maritime Center?

JC: Bayfront Maritime Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that does maritime-based education programs. They have a bunch of different programs. We have an Adaptive Sailing program. We have a Veterans At EASE program, which takes veterans with PTSD sailing.

Then we also work with children of refugees [and] migrant families or migrant workers. We work with a lot of different kids. There’s a lot of different programs. The ones that I mostly run is the Bayfront Alternative Education Program [AEP], which partners with Sarah Reed.

JM: What is Sarah Reed?

JC: They’re sort of a mental health, social service organization in Erie. It’s a trifecta between the Bayfront Maritime Center, which is who I work for, and Sarah Reed, and Erie School District. We get the kids that aren’t doing well in the traditional classroom. They have been kicked out of mainstream education.

JM: Oh, really?

JC: They come to our school, and they’ve all been—I don’t want to say “sentenced,” but I’ll say “sentenced” for a lack of a better word. They get sentenced to us for either 90 days or 25 days or the rest of the year, depending. They go to school there, they have all their subjects there, so I teach their forced elective. [laughs] It’s not an elective because it’s the only one offered, you know, so I teach their shop credit.

JM: So they don’t just come for the elective. They—

JC: No, they go to school there all day long.

JM: Oh, I didn’t know about that.

JC: Yeah, so we have, you know, a social studies teacher and an English teacher and a math teacher [and a] science teacher. I teach the shop part of it, The Boat Shop part of it, and it’s all at the Bayfront Maritime Center.

JM: Is there a classroom component to what you do, or is it more of a workshop environment?

JC: No, it’s all hands-on. I teach a lot of job skills: communication, teamwork. We could be building anything. We just happen to be building a boat, which is great because you have to work together. It’s a 22-foot lapstrake boat, To be able to put a plank on, a 22-foot plank, you have to communicate. You have to work together. If somebody in your group bails and decides they don’t want to work anymore, it makes everybody else have to work that much harder. I think it lends itself well to teaching a lot of the skills that I try to reinforce, which is effective communication, problem-solving, thinking on your feet.

It’s a big project. Even for me, it’s like, “Where do you start?” [laughs] But I try to break it down into bite-sized pieces, and every day, we achieve something, whether it’s just getting everything sanded down and ready for painting, or if we’re flipping the boat over that day. I try to just break it down and take my time. I’ve learned from working with this population that you just can’t really ever expect to get anything done, and then you’re never disappointed, you know? [laughs]

JM: [laughs]

JC: Because you never know. I mean, you never know what happened the night before or that morning.

JM: I never thought of it that way.

JC: Yeah. Some days, they come in and they’re really sad or really angry, so I just have to adapt. I mean, I would say I’m just as much as, like, a social worker as I am a teacher or a boatbuilder. I end up talking to a lot of students about their lives, and that’s sort of what’s cool about what I do is [that] I keep their hands busy and get their mouths moving. I learn a lot about their relationships and their lives.

JM: When you get a group of kids like this, I imagine you can’t just take them into the shop and say, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do today.”

JC: Right. [laughs]

JM: How do you prepare them to get started with a project like building a boat?

JC: Well, I try to teach the skills as we go along. I don’t like to just come in and sit them down and read through all the rules. I like to take a different tack of, you know, explain the project, what we’ve been doing, or even, better yet, to get one of the other students to talk about…

JM: Oh, that’s good.

JC: …what we’ve done and tell them about the boat or the project. I don’t know! I just—

JM: I didn’t know if you have a certain plan of attack, like, kind of get to know them first or—

JC: Yeah! I do get to know them. It’s a funny thing because, at our school, they have to go through two metal detectors to get to me.

JM: Oh, wow.

JC: Well, they go through, like, one at the airport—you know, one of those walkthrough metal detectors—and then they get wanded, as well. Then they walk into my shop and I give them knives and saws and all kinds of sharp tools. [laughs]

JM: [laughs]

JC: “Here’s a band saw! Let’s cut this piece of wood!” So, I mean, there’s definitely trust going on there, and I’ve had kids say, you know. I’d say, “Okay. We’re going to cut this piece. Here’s a saw,” and they say, “Well, Miss. You know, I was here because I brought a knife to a football game,” or “I brought a knife to school,” or “I’m not good around sharp things.” It’s, like, “Well, learn how to use it. I’ll teach you how to use it and what it’s for.” That respect and that trust, I don’t think they’ve ever encountered that before—just having somebody trust them and respect them enough to give them a sharp object and teach them how to use it.

I ask that—or I guess I don’t really even ask what they’re there for. I don’t care. They each start a new chapter as soon as they walk through the door, you know?

JM: That’s nice.

JC: Yeah! I don’t want to know. [laughs] Moving forward, always! I made a lot of mistakes in my life that people have forgiven me for, so I try to do the same thing. Just moving forward, always.

I teach those kids during the day, and that’s the majority of the kids that I work with. We also do an after-school program, where they have to apply and get in, so they have to write essays and fill out something that looks exactly like a job application. They get accepted, and we teach jobs skills and communication and all of those things by building a boat, by using a CNC machine, and by going out on the water and having to raise the sails together, and navigate the boat together.

We do a bunch of different programming, but what I’m mostly involved with is the alternative education program and the after-school program, and then the summer program.

JM: What kind of boats do you build?

JC: Small craft, anywhere from six feet to—well, I’ve done model boats before, so anywhere from two feet to—the largest one I’ve personally built was a 22-foot boat. That’s the boat that I’m building now, and this is the second one. It’s a St. Ayles skiff. It’s designed to be a boat that is easily built by novices, and then rowed and used by the community.

Our model was to have the high school students build the boat and then start a community rowing program. That would increase people’s accessibility to the waterfront, and [they could] go out rowing. We’ve been going out for, like, an hour. It started this summer, so we’ve been going out for hour rows or two-hour rows in the morning and the evening.

JM: So the boats are intended to be ones that anyone in the community can use?

JC: Yeah. Well, that’s been the model for the two rowboats that were built, was to then start a community rowing organization or program, I should say. Some of the boats we build, we end up selling, or they end up getting raffled off to promote other programs.

JM: How do students feel about building boats? When they first come in, I can imagine this crowd is just not having anything to do with it.

JC: It’s interesting, yeah. [laughs] Mostly they’re, like—they all call me Miss, and they’re, like, “You’re crazy, Miss! We can’t build this thing!” Then, I think, breaking it down in bite-sized pieces just helps them see the process and teaches them delayed gratification, as well. I find a lot that kids are, like, “I want to get this done! I want to get it done now!”

Building a boat or doing anything by hand is not fast. It’s not quick, ever. [laughs] There’s a lot of steps. I think for a big project like this, where we’re really taking our time and doing it well, [it] teaches them to just, you know, work a little bit more slowly and methodically, and not worry about getting things done quickly—having it now, now, now.

JM: What kind of skills do you teach that they can use after they’re out of school, like job skills?

JC: Job skills. Well, I already touched on some of these, like teamwork and communication, and just—

JM: I think you mentioned that CNC is part of it?

JC: Yeah, CNC. Computer numeric control. It’s a router. It’s an amazing tool. Those are jobs. Those are jobs that our kids could potentially get. If you get on Craigslist and look under the job postings, it’s all CNC operators. It’s a huge need in the community.

JM: Yeah, especially in this area.

JC: So yeah. We have one. Every kid is trained on it, so there’s a lot that goes into that. There’s design, there’s thinking about the composition. Then there’s programming and CAD and all those things that go into making something on the CNC. I’m still learning. [laughs] I’ve learned a lot in the last two years. I had no experience [with it] before coming to the Bayfront Maritime Center.

JM: Do you feel like this program has been effective overall at helping these students with their problems?

JC: Yeah, I mean, we have a lot of success stories. We have a lot of students that come back by and check in with us during the summer and during the school year. They all are successful members of the community. They’re not lawyers or doctors or anything like that, but they’re holding a full-time job and they’re not in trouble, which means we’re doing something right.

JM: What would you say is the most gratifying part of the job?

JC: With every student—well, I wouldn’t say with every student. With some students, you sort of see that light bulb go off, and they get it, no matter what it is. I don’t care if the kids like building a boat. I don’t care if they like the water. I’m not trying to train a bunch of boatbuilders or sailors or anything like that.

I think what I teach them is it’s okay to make mistakes and how to fix mistakes and how to problem-solve. A lot of times, the kids will make a mistake and they’ll be, like, “Screw this! This sucks!” and, you know, throw it down. It’s, like, “No, wait! We can fix that!” I mean, that’s basically what I do is fix mistakes—my own and other people’s. [laughs]

Just seeing the students succeed, seeing them gain a little bit of confidence, and be able to look back on their time with us at Bayfront Maritime [Center], that they’d reflect on it and think, “Wow, that was crazy, that they trusted us with a bunch of sharp tools, and they paid to build that boat!” and to think back and to be proud of the boat that they built. I think some of them feel that way now and others don’t realize it yet.

I just hope that, one day, they’ll think back and think that it was a great experience. I think giving them that experience and giving them the opportunity to do it is huge. That’s one thing that the kids, I see that they don’t really have is opportunities. You know, a lot of them are really, really poor. A lot of people ask me, “Is most of your population black or white?” It’s every possible—

JM: Yeah, I was going to ask if it’s a co-ed program.

JC: It is a co-ed program, yeah, and their backgrounds are from everywhere. Some of them are African-American, Puerto Rican, Somali, you name it, so that’s really fun to get to work with kids from other cultures.

JM: Makes it different every day, I imagine.

JC: Yeah! That’s one thing I like about AEP, too, is that, when I have a really bad day, it just varies from day to day. You know the next day is not going to be as bad! [laughs] Even when I have a bad day and I really feel frustrated, and I feel like all is lost, you know, [like] I’m wasting my time, then usually a couple of days later, I find that I’m really happy that I did this, or that I do this work, but [laughs] some days I really question my sanity.

JM: [laughs]

JC: [laughs] Because it’s chaos. I mean, it’s…

JM: What do you mean chaos?

JC: …not an orderly environment! I mean, it is in the way that—it’s organized chaos, I guess I should say. [laughs]

JM: What’s so chaotic about it?

JC: Well, there’s a bunch of kids running around a boat shop with things they could trip on or things they could fight with or things they could sharpen.

JM: But that never happens, I imagine, or has it come close?

JC: We’ve had safety issues, for sure, with kids not listening. Usually, I just try to get them out of The Boat Shop, you know, so that they can just take a walk and cool down and then they can come back. I don’t ever want to kick kids out permanently.

JM: Because that could be damaging.

JC: Yeah, right. I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve done stupid stuff, if I think back to my youth. [laughs] I didn’t realize at the time that it was a safety issue. It’s, like, “Hey, it’d be cool to sharpen this stick on the sander.” You don’t realize sort of what you’re doing, so I always try to give them a second chance, and a third chance, and sometimes a fourth chance to be successful. It just depends. I mean, there’s so many different cases of them testing the boundaries.

JM: Do you find yourself playing the role of counselor with some kids? Like, do they come to you with problems that they don’t think they can go to anyone else with?

JC: Yeah, especially—I work with a lot of the girls, and—

JM: Are you the only Maritime Educator there?

JC: I guess I am, but there’s my co-worker who does the CNC machine. He’s also, I guess, a Maritime Educator. Him and I work together. I guess maybe I am. There’s another guy who’s a fleet captain. He just manages our boats, but he doesn’t really work with students very much. Yeah, I am the only [laughs] Maritime Educator—right now, anyway.

JM: But you work mostly with the girls, you said?

JC: I end up working with a lot of the girls and end up talking with them a lot about everything, really—about marriage. A lot of them can’t believe that I’m married and I have no kids. That concept to them is just really foreign. [laughs] And that I’m 31, going on 32, with no kids. Their reaction is always, like, “You better hurry up!” [laughs] “You better go!” So that’s really crazy to a lot of the students. A lot of them at 14, 15, 16 are being pressured by their boyfriends to have kids and get pregnant.

JM: Oh, my goodness. Really?

JC: Oh, yeah. We have a couple of students right now that have kids, but I couldn’t imagine. They work, they take their kids to daycare, and they go to school. They’re very impressive. [laughs] I couldn’t imagine.

JM: Me either, yeah. How does the community get involved with The Boat Shop and what’s going on?

JC: Well, we do two annual fundraisers. One is Ales for Sails. We open up our doors and have nine local breweries come in. We sell tickets for 35 bucks apiece, so it’s a big fundraiser for us. Then we do the Cardboard Boat Regatta, which is in the summer.

JM: What is that?

JC: Build a bunch of cardboard boats and throw them in the water! We have a bunch of different awards: Fastest Boat, Most Dramatic Sinking, Most Creative. That’s really cool, because some kids have been doing it every single year. The whole family builds a boat, or the organization builds a boat. We work with Housing Authority kids and the JFK Center, so they all build a boat and try to race it. We try to teach them how to paddle, too, but—I try to tell the kids every year, if you just paddle in a straight line, you’ll win…

JM: [laughs]

JC: …but [laughs] that’s a hard concept for somebody who’s—

JM: Yeah, because you have to alternate, right?

JC: Yeah! And you’ve got to have somebody at the back who’s steering the boat, so you’ve got to have the muscle in the back, and you’ve got to keep paddling straight. It’s a difficult thing, especially when you’re 11 years old. [laughs]

JM: How many boats do you build a year?

JC: At BMC, just a couple. Just one or two.

JM: Is it, like, one a semester?

JC: Well, we do summer programming, as well. Since I’ve been there, we’ve only built one boat a year, but we do other programs. We’ve built model boats, and then there are years where they build really simple boats that are smaller—six-hour canoes that are a lot quicker. They can build a lot of them.

At Compass Project, the place in Portland, Maine, where I worked, we built a lot of boats, like an average of eight during the school year [and] anywhere from 13 to 25 in the summer. We did a big boatbuilding festival—that was our big fundraiser up there. There was a year we had 16 boats, and we built them in two and a half days with a bunch of folks—a bunch of families, and a bunch of organizations and corporations. They all came down, and we had a bunch of volunteers that helped out with it. We did that and a bunch of camps and stuff where we’d build a boat in a week.

At Bayfront, it’s just been one boat a year, but they’re 22-foot boats, so they’re big boats. [It’s] pretty involved.

JM: [It] sounds like you enjoy the job pretty well.

JC: I do. You know, it was so serendipitous that I got this job here. I think it was just always meant to be. It was such a weird fit. When Ben, my husband, got accepted to Edinboro University, my first thought was, “I’m not going. I’ve got this great job on the coast of Maine building boats with kids. Hell no, I’m not moving to Pennsylvania!”

Then, as I started researching and found Bayfront online, I read everything about it. I think I stayed up until 3:00 in the morning watching all of the videos [and] reading the whole website. That next morning, I woke Ben up and said, “We’ve got to go. I’m not going to quit a great job that I love. This place looks great,” but it’s all about the people you work with, you know?

JM: Yup.

JC: If the place is really cool but the people are terrible, or not passionate about it and just going through the motions, then I don’t want to work there.

We just drove out here over spring break. I just called Rich up and said, “Hey, can I come in for a tour?” I didn’t tell him I was moving here.

JM: Rich is the Executive Director?

JC: Yeah, at BMC. I didn’t tell him I was moving or anything. I just said, “Hey, I happen to be in town. I work for a similar organization in Portland. He said, “Come on down,” and was very generous. He gave us, like, two hours of his time, even though he’s a really busy guy.

JM: So was this a vacancy that was open?

JC: We didn’t know it at the time, yeah. I didn’t know it. So he gave us two hours of his time, showed us around, [we] talked to him. I said at the end, “Listen, I might be moving here.” He said, “Come into my office and sit down,” and we did an interview right then and there. He said, “The guy that did have your job just told me two days ago that he doesn’t want to do it next year.”

JM: Wow.

JC: You want to talk about timing and serendipity. I mean, it was always meant to be. It’s an uncanny thing. I can’t really explain it. [laughs] This was how it was supposed to happen, I guess.

JM: That’s cool.

JC: Here I am, yeah. Wow, yeah. It gives me goosebumps. Once I sat down with Rich and Amy—because Rich is the Executive Director, but his wife is the Assistant Director. They run it together. I mostly work with Rich, but I work with Amy a bit, too. When we actually sat down and talked about it, [laughs] we all had goosebumps. It was just, like, “Wow.” It’s an amazing thing.

JM: If somebody wanted to follow The Boat Shop online, what would be the best way to do that?

JC: Facebook, and my kids write a blog about building these two St. Ayles skiffs. That’s the 22-foot rowboats. I can give you that link: it’s

JM: Okay, I’ll link to that.

JC: Okay [laughs], or our website, which is That has a link to our Facebook, to our Twitter, and to the blog.

Come visit, you know? Support us through going to one of our annual fundraisers or Erie Gives Day, or just stopping by to see the progress that we’re making.

JM: Good deal. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JC: I don’t think so.

JM: How was this?

JC: I think I said everything that I wanted to say. I teach a lot of applied math, which I guess is something I didn’t talk about. Obviously, with building a boat, there’s a lot of different angles. You have to measure everything twice [and] cut it once. [laughs]

JM: Yup. I’ve heard that.

JC: I do a lot of fractions, obviously, with measuring. We do a lot of geometry [and] compound angles.

JM: Do you find that these are things that the kids know about a little in advance, or is this something that you’re teaching for the first time, in some cases?

JC: It depends. It depends on their home school, what country they came from, whether or not they’ve only learned metric and they don’t know the English system of measuring. That’s pretty entertaining, because they’re, like, “Why?”

JM: [laughs]

JC: If they’ve learned Metric, it makes so much sense. It’s really intuitive. Then they come here and it’s, like, 13/16ths of an inch, you know. It’s a hard thing to learn.

JM: Yeah, yeah.

JC: I end up teaching measuring. I end up teaching a lot of math, just whatever. It might be multiplying fractions, dividing fractions, finding a center line. You have to do all of that so the boat goes together symmetrically and correctly. That was the only thing I don’t think I really talked about.

JM: I’m glad you brought it up.

JC: Yeah! A lot of them sit in math class and think, “I’m never going to use this.” I remember feeling that way about algebra.

JM: Yup. Same here.

JC: But when you put it into a format where it’s like, “Okay, our boat is this many inches long, and we need to put a screw every five feet. How many screws do we need?” You break it down like that. That’s an equation, that’s algebra, but it makes sense, and it’s tangible, and it’s real, and you can apply it to something. For me, that’s when a lot of light bulbs go off with my students. It’s, like, “Oh, that’s what we need this for.”

A lot of them like to cook and bake, so it’s the same thing—measuring out flour and doubling a recipe. It’s all math. Math is so important. I mean, if they really like building and they’re really passionate about it, they have to learn math. No matter who you are, you have to learn math. That’s the one thing that I try to reinforce.

JM: I almost forgot to ask: do you need a certification to be a Maritime Educator?

JC: No. Well, you do to be one of the other teachers—math or social studies. For me, I just have experience. I don’t have any education degree. I’ve never even taken an education class. [laughs]

My mom was a teacher, so I went to work with her a lot. When I started teaching in college, when I was teaching in downtown Dayton, I knew then that I was going to be a teacher. I knew then that was what I was going to do. I don’t know why I continued at college to get a Religion minor instead of [laughs] getting an Education degree, but that was the decision I made at the time. I might go back to school for Education at some point. I want to be a shop teacher. I mean, I want to do what I do now.

I have learned about myself that I have a lot of patience that I didn’t know I had, so I can work with this population. There’s a lot of folks that can’t. I understand that.

JM: That’s all I have.

JC: Okay.

JM: Well, thank you, Jodi.

Conclusion by Josh Morgan

This episode of The Plural of You was produced by me, Josh Morgan, in snowy Edinboro, Pennsylvania. Mike Martinez created our theme music.

Transcripts and show notes for each episode of The Plural of You, including this one, are available at Subscribe to this podcast while you’re there at, or search for The Plural of You on iTunes and Stitcher.

You can follow The Plural of You on Facebook or Twitter at pluralofyou. You can also email me, and that address is josh at Let me know what you think about the podcast, or if you come across a guest that you’d like to listen to, or if you’d just like to say hello. I’d be happy to hear from you.

In closing, here’s a homework assignment.

The next time you feel an urge to complain about a person or a group of people, try to realize that they’re making the best of what they have, and no one sets out every day to do their worst. If you can imagine what’s bothering you about them from that angle, that might provide you with an opportunity to help them resolve a stubborn issue. If nothing else, understanding their side of things can help calm your thoughts, both about your complaint and in other ways throughout your life.

That’s all for now. Thanks for listening.