Discovering the love of learning

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us, something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
—e.e. cummings

“I’m so happy that Mr. Jeff picked me to do BoatWorks. I can’t wait to build a boat and try it out on the water. I can’t wait for the next day of BoatWorks.” Wow! What better endorsement for our boatbuilding program than this one from Alaiya, a middle school student at our CamdenForward School?

I often joke that my job is to get kids out of school. In reality, it’s more about expanding the walls of our classrooms beyond the traditional school building. The sheer joy and excitement expressed by Alaiya is how we all should feel about learning. Too often, by the time students reach middle school, that passion for learning has been extinguished by well-meaning but mundane classroom activities.

Alaiya and her fellow boat builders will be working with fractions, adding, and dividing in the shop, all while learning an entirely new language—the language of boatbuilding. They will call on their math and language skills to loft the station lines as they transfer scale from blueprints to the actual wood that will be used in crafting the boat. Weeks from now, the boat will begin to take form. Lifted from an abstract architectural drawing, it will become a full-scale boat with the fine lines and precise curves indicative of the care and hard work that goes into something cherished. And maybe, in the process, Alaiya will have discovered her passion for learning, or at least will have recognized the value of learning math.

The other day I sat with Ashley, a senior at the UrbanPromise Academy. We were talking about her classes. She told me she struggles with math; I shared with her how I always considered math my least favorite subject. She was surprised, and asked me why I get excited about building boats when so much math is involved. I laughed and told her that, really, the passion is for being on the water in the beautiful wooden boats we build. Math is just one of the tools we need to enjoy our boats and the places they can take us. I then asked Ashley what her favorite subject was. She said English, because she loves to write. Although English can be a really difficult class, she feels she can express herself best through writing and loves to do so.

Whether in the English classroom or the boat shop, UrbanPromise provides a place where students like Alaiya and Ashley discover something about which they love to learn. Our goal is that, whatever that something is, it gives them a glimmer of insight into the sacred within themselves. And with your support, we are able to be that someone who is there to show the children and youth of UrbanPromise how valuable they are. Believing in their inherent value, these children and youth step closer to becoming all that 
God made them to be.

Trekking on,


Jim Cummings
Director of Experiential Learning