Boatbuilding builds up kids

Published May 17, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - A group of Star Education Center students saw the results of a month's hard work recently when they launched full-size, handcrafted boats on the Weeki Wachee River to the delight of family, friends and teachers.

Not all kids will give up free time for school work, but you couldn't keep these kids away. Derek Egli, for instance, graduated and received his diploma three weeks ago. The 17-year-old has been back every day to work on his final woodshop project, the boat.

"It's great someone takes initiative to care about kids and come up with a way to spend quality time with them. They learn valuable skills here, " said Nathan Egli, Derek's father, who attended the boat launch picnic May 6.

For more than a dozen years, boatbuilding has been the final woodworking project under the enthusiastic supervision of teacher Tony Bruno, who is retiring this year.

Kids are assigned to Star Center because of behavior issues. Bruno doesn't see problem students, he sees people, he says, and his job is to teach.

In his woodshop, serious lessons come between layers of camaraderie in a slightly laid-back environment. Rules, except for strict safety guidelines, are more flexible than in a classroom. There is no doubt teacher and students care about each other.

Teamwork is obvious, though Bruno says cooperation is sometimes a most difficult skill for his students.

Jason Gumm, 18, on launching his motored boat, said, "A whole lot of people helped. I liked learning a lot and I could see the results."

Tim Mock and Jonathan Gilmore, both 18, worked on more than one boat. They helped choose materials, added design suggestions and had a hand in everything up to the finish coat.

Looking ruefully at a scraped thumb, Jonathan said, "It was all painting, sanding, cutting and hurting."

Feliciah St. Hilaire, 16, and Danielle Decost, 15, volunteered to give Derek a hand painting. They chose a polka-dot motif.

Danielle said, "He told us we could add one dot. We did. But then it kept going; we made 492 polka dots. He likes it. The other kids want dots, too."

And there it was, a masculine, well-constructed boat - covered in nearly 500 symmetrically shaped pink, green and yellow polka dots.

That was fine with Derek. It was fine with his co-workers and with onlookers. The weather was gorgeous and the atmosphere was relaxing. The students felt good about a job well done. And the boats, their long-lasting reminders of personal successes, sailed on.