Students in Floyd learn science, math, and life skills while building a sailboat for school

Published: Apr. 5, 2019 at 5:14 AM EDT
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In the mountainous farmland of Floyd, among the cows and bales of hay, something you might not expect is being built in a back woods farm.

"We are building a 22-foot sailboat to sail on the Chesapeake Bay!" Tatiana Alba exclaimed.

When most people hear what these kids are doing, they're skeptical.

"They're like, 'but you live in the mountains and you're doing what?'" Lotus Billand laughed. "And they're facial expressions are priceless."

These students attend Springhouse Community School.

"We're always looking for ways to make the learning engaging, relevant, and alive," the dean of students, Chris Wolf said.

The school emphasizes community collaboration, individual mentorship, and most importantly learning by doing.

"There's few ways I can think of to better do that than have students actually building a boat that they're going to sail," Wolf said.

The flexible structure of Springhouse allows classroom fundamentals to be turned into practical applications.

"Kids that are absorbed in a project sometimes don't realize they're learning," their sailboat instructor, David Reece said. "It doesn't feel like an exercise in a book, it's a real thing you're doing."

"I learn better by doing something with my hands while I'm learning it," Alba said. "So like, 'okay, we're scaling. Great.' Doesn't mean anything to me unless I'm doing it and I can see what's actually going on."

They're learning typical classroom subjects like math and science in a completely different way.

"This is an actual thing that we're doing, instead of a piece of paper," Billand said.

However, there are also life lessons that go beyond the classroom.

"I never thought I would like building a boat, but here I am," Alba said explaining how the project helped her step outside of her comfort zone.

"These students have to play off of each others' strengths. They have to build each other up," Reece said as he watched his students encourage one another.

They're also learning to be true to themselves.

"It's shown me that I can be confident and I can love myself and that it's okay to be upset and it's okay to cry," Billand said.

This project wraps up in May when the class takes a field trip to the Chesapeake Bay, but the lessons they've learned won't sail off in their memory.

"It's going to be really amazing to be like, 'Yo, I made this and now I'm sailing it.' And I'll have pictures so that I can show my kids and grandkids," Billand said. "In the long run, I'm not learning how to sit behind a desk. I'm learning how to be a person."