NP students’ boats featured at R.I. Boat Show

NP students’ boats featured at R.I. Boat Show

At last week’s opening of the R.I. Boat Show are, from left, North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, Kevin McKiernan, who teaches boat science at North Providence High School, Henry Marciano, founder of the marine trades program in North Providence, and Brian Gilmore, principal at Birchwood Middle School. Surrounding them are the boats made by the students of North Providence. (Breeze photo by Charles Lawrence)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Boats built by students in the North Providence marine trades program featured prominently during the Rhode Island Boat Show in Providence over the past weekend.

Debbie Wood, operator of the show and owner of Warwick-based Wood Boat and Motor, said she’s been nothing but impressed by the success of the town’s marine trades program. The former North Providence resident for 18 years now lives just over the line in Smithfield, right near the Wenscott Reservoir where a new grant-funded boating center is planned at the Meehan Overlook.

“They have an outstanding marine program,” she said. “Being in the marine industry, we’re very aware of that program at Birchwood, and also at the high school.”

Wood said her company has long offered its professional services to the local marine program.

“We believe in their program,” she said. “I believe it’s one-of-a-kind. Everything about it is just fascinating.”

The marine industry is a very difficult one in which to draw qualified people to do work. Many of those who apply to work at Wood Boat and Motor talk about their time on the water with a grandparent or other similar personal experience, said Wood, but the North Providence students have a huge leg up since they start building boats as 7th-graders. They learn early the basics of flotation, weight distribution, propulsion and proper maintenance, she said, having a trade instilled in them at a young age.

That trade experience can then take them on to other programs, including work-study programs as dealerships such as her company.

Marine programs such as this one are “absolutely key” to the marine trades in Rhode Island, and are great for students who might not be strong in academics, she added.

“We’re actually creating a workforce for all of us in the marine trade here in the Ocean State,” Wood said.

Where past shows featured local students working on one boat, this one allowed them ample space to offer several boats for sale, said Wood, an opportunity to bring money back into the program and let students see the results of their work.

“They were a great addition to the show,” she said.

Wood said she even overheard someone make a special order for the students to build them a boat.

Mia Rocchio, an 8th-grader at Birchwood in her second year of marine trades, said she loves the program and plans to try to get into the high school program if she attends North Providence High School. She said it was a great experience being part of the boat show over the weekend, especially seeing some of the boats she worked on over the summer.

Though none of the boats sold at the show, she said a number of people put in orders for custom-built boats, and students will fulfill those requests. The price for those boats will likely range between $300 and $650.

Those who’ve played a role in the North Providence program, including founder and retired Providence teacher Henry Marciano, local middle school instructors Richard Torti and Matt Moniz, and Kevin McKiernan, who teaches boat science at North Providence High School, “are so good at what they do,” said Wood, and it’s a no-brainer to feature the program in the annual show. Mayor Charles Lombardi has also been a great supporter of its continued growth, she noted, recently winning a $182,000 grant to create a physical headquarters for the marine program at the Meehan Overlook.

“I would love to see that program explode in five different directions,” said Wood.

The possibilities here are limitless, especially as one of just three marine programs in the state, she said, and there are plans for new projects in the future. Those include a boat that’s accessible to those with special needs, a boat specifically designed for veterans, and boats with fabricated cushioned seats, which “takes it to another level.”

The local program “was one of the best-kept secrets in the state,” said Wood, but not any longer.