AMS II students thought their visit to Rocking the Boat was all academic…until they found themselves in the middle of an environmental investigation!

Over the course of five days in mid-May, Rocking the Boat’s On-Water Classroom welcomed the entire tenth grade class from the New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science II (AMS II). Zach White Stellato, the Living Environments teacher at AMS II, worked closely with Nina Sander, Rocking the Boat’s Director of Public Programs, to create a specialized field trip that would help his students prepare for their upcoming final and Regents examinations—and have a great time doing it!

Nina, along with Jamie Renée Smith, our new Assistant Director of Public Programs, and the On-Water Classroom Program Assistants, set out to engage the AMS II students in hands-on science. They taught the kids to row; helped them collect Bronx River water samples, which they tested for turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and pH, and plankton samples that they examined under microscopes; and led “Sewer in a Suitcase,” an activity that uses a miniature model of a city block to illustrate how stormwater flows directly into the river when heavy rains overwhelm New York City’s combined sewer system.

Though the group came to Rocking the Boat with many preconceptions about the river being heavily polluted, they were pleasantly surprised to find that these ideas were largely false. However, the results of their pH testing did reveal unusually low levels.  Let’s pause for a quick chemistry refresher: solutions with a pH less than 7 are said to be acidic, while those with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline. Pure water has a pH of 7 and the Bronx River typically has a pH of about 7.5, so you can imagine the reaction of the AMS II students who saw readings as low as 5! Apprentices in Rocking the Boat’s Environmental Job Skills Programs also saw low pH during their weekly water quality monitoring and observed dead fish in the river, likely a direct result of the increased acidity. Combined with similar observations made by other local groups, these findings prompted an investigation by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. AMS II students were proud to contribute their data to the DEC and try to help determine the cause of this disturbing event.

By turning the Bronx River into their classroom, 142 students saw first-hand how closely connected they are to the environment, and just how important it is to protect the local ecosystem. We wish all the tenth graders at AMS II the best of luck on their exams—we are sure they will ace them!—and hope to see them all back at Rocking the Boat soon.

Also, check out this great Hunts Point Express article written by one of the AMS students!

April Dispatch

Last week was a busy one at Rocking the Boat!  We had all of our usual after school programs AND lots of special surprises too, including an unexpected visit from a giant horseshoe crab.  Program Assistant Danise found this impressive specimen washed up on the shore at Hunts Point Riverside Park on Wednesday.


Danise and her horseshoe crab!


Sailing students had a big week.  They not only took their first voyage on the keelboat, but also took a trip out to the Boat Locker in Connecticut to try on cool spray gear they’ll need once they’re sailing the new small sail trainers we bought in April. The boats shipped out from England last month and are due to arrive any day now. We can’t wait!


Brian’s boatbuilders are plugging away to finish their semi-dory by the end of the semester and come up with a great name—we’re in full-on countdown mode!  Sam’s environmental group went up river to check eel mops on Monday.  They didn’t find any eels (womp womp), but the very next day our middle schoolers from St. Ignatius found several.  If YOU want to see an American glass eel, come on by and meet Houdini and Dragon.  They’ll be hanging out in the tank in our Job Skills lab for a little while before we let them head back down to the Sargasso Sea.


Finally, social work groups have been especially active and timely given the events in Baltimore, Ferguson, and of course here in New York.  The theme of groups this month was stereotypes.  Students have been able to engage in group conversations and activities to learn about stereotypes and how to work past them.  On Friday, we had a speaker from Bronx Defenders give a presentation called “Know Your Rights,” which addressed what students should do if they are ever stopped by the police.


Notice a program missing?  That’s right!  Boatbuilding Job Skills Director Mike Grundman joined Executive Director and Founder Adam Green last week at the 2015 Teaching with Small Boats Conference in Port Townsend, Washington.  They shared our best practices from RTB and met other groups from all over the country doing education through wooden boatbuilding.  Meanwhile, Carlos Duran (our newest full time/alumni hire!) held down the fort and worked with Mike’s apprentices to get Legacy, one of our wooden sailboats, ready for her launch in the Bronx River.


Just another busy week at Rocking the Boat!  Follow us on TwitterInstagramVine, and Facebook to get real-time updates on our activities and adventures!

with a little help from our friends

On April 18th we launched our 30-foot keelboat Pegasus with an enormous amount of help of our friends next door at SIMS Metal Management. We’re so lucky to be neighbors with these guys! Check out the video below.

Spring Family Night a Success!

What do boats, rivets, lasagna, chicken, PFDs, and excitement have in common?  They were all plentiful at Rocking the Boat’s Family Night last Friday!  While most people were winding down from a long week, RTB students and staff were winding up to host a great event for friends and family.  More than 60 visitors shared a delicious dinner and dabbled in rowing, boatbuilding, and environmental science.  It was a great opportunity for Rocking the Boat students and apprentices to strut their stuff and become the teachers for the night, as you can see in the photos below. One boatbuilding apprentice noted, “It feels so good to show my dad what I’ve done.  I feel proud.”  You don’t have to be a Rocking the Boat parent, grandparent, or sibling to get in on the action.  Come out June 6th for our End of Semester Celebration!


Environmental Job Skills Apprentices give a presentation on their projects this semester, which included building Remote Operated Vehicles that zoom around the Bronx River!

The tide was a little low to get on the water but that didn’t stop on-water students from teaching rowing as a dry run in our yard.

Everyone had a riveting time in the boatbuilding shop learning to – you guessed it – rivet!

Job Skills Goes to College


SUNY binghamton

In just a few short weeks every one of Rocking the Boat’s 12 newest alumni will be starting the next chapter in their lives—college! Some are leaving the State, going to schools like the Rhode Island School of Design and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (we expect visits during breaks, you guys!), while others are staying in the City and will continue their involvement with Rocking the Boat as Program Assistants. We wish them all the best of luck, but where ever they go we will be there to support them through our Alumni programs.

And now is the time for rising seniors in the Job Skills Program to start thinking about college applications, and for rising juniors to start envisioning where they’d like to be in two years’ time. At Rocking the Boat we can think of no better way to kick off the college process than with our annual combination college visit/camping trip in upstate New York! On July 28, 16 Apprentices and three staff members left the Bronx for five days of campus tours and four nights of good old-fashioned camping.

Day one started with a road trip from Rocking the Boat to SUNY Binghamton, where the high school juniors and seniors took a tour and the soon to be college freshman participated in a scavenger hunt to locate important sites around the campus—the dining hall, financial aid office, and career services, just to name a few. The day ended in Buttermilk Falls State Park in the heart of the Finger Lakes Region.



The younger Apprentices started day two with a tour of Ithaca College, located just minutes from the campsite, while the college-bound Apprentices visited Cayuga Wooden Boatworks. The group had a great time checking out another workshop and seeing what a career in wooden boatbuilding might look like. At SUNY Oswego, on the shore of Lake Ontario, the Apprentices were given a tour by a student from the Bronx who happily answered lots of questions about her experience leaving home and attending a school where the student body is predominately white and largely from upstate New York. The night was spent at Shady Shores Campground, where everyone had a blast swimming, barbequing, and hanging out by the lake.

An afternoon at Syracuse University was a huge hit, and the Lake George Riverview Campground—aptly described by its name—provided another scenic backdrop for cookouts and camping. Thursday, the last full day of the trip, was reserved for a whitewater rafting excursion down the Upper Hudson River. Everyone excitedly got into their gear and boarded the boats, completing the 17-mile rafting trip over the course of five hours.



Alissa H., an Environmental Apprentice who is new to the Job Skills Program this summer and is going into her junior year of high school, reported that the trip really got her thinking about her own college search. “Even though I know I want to go to college, the trip made it more real. I learned a lot about doing applications and being on campus.” A special thanks to the Job Skills staff–Mike Grundman, Liz Lindgren, and Sam Marquand–for planning an awesome trip!

June Hat Trick


14-foot Whitehall Boatswain

Rocking the Boat can always be counted upon to launch a beautiful new boat, sometimes even two, every June.  This year, Rocking the Boat has topped itself and launched THREE!

On Saturday, June 7, Rocking the Boat brought over 300 members of the Hunts Point community together to present Boatswain, built in memory of a beloved former student who lost her valiant but brief battle with cancer last summer, and Fowl Play, a restored survivor of Hurricane Sandy.

Many of the 20 students behind Boatswain had never met her namesake, Mellissa Mulcare Boatswain, but, according to Melly’s close friend and fellow Boatbuilding Program Assistant Taji Riley, they were able to capture her effervescent spirit in the boat they built.  The naming ceremony followed a short, but spirited parade through Hunts Point Riverside Park led by the Abrazos Orchestra.  The gloriously sunny day was reflected in the cheery sunbursts that were the central design element on the boat’s transom and oars, representing both the flag of Antigua, where Melly was born, and the brightness and joy she radiated daily.

Fowl Play

Fowl Play

Just after Boatswain’s launch, Fowl Play, a 12-foot Duck Boat built and sailed by James Green, the son of longtime supporters Peter and D’Arcy Green, had her moment in the sun.  Based out of Barnegat Bay, NJ, where Hurricane Sandy made shore in October, 2012, she was among the casualties of that devastating storm.  The garage where the boat had been stored disappeared and it was assumed that the boat was gone with it; but she was later found buried in sand and badly broken.  In early April, the boat was brought up to the Bronx and this spring Boatbuilding Job Skills Apprentices restored it.  Apprentices will spend the summer learning to sail her and end the season in style at the 2014 World Duck Championship Regatta at Mantoloking Yacht Club on August 22.  There, the night before the races, Fowl Play will be presented in front of a panel of experts and the Apprentices hope she will be judged in “bristol fashion,” or first class condition.


Snow and FDNY Fireboat

Finally, this past Monday, June 16, the third boat hit the water: a 12-foot semi-dory built on commission for a local Bronx businessman, Bill Endico, who wanted a boat in which to teach his great grandchildren how to row.  The boat was painted white and named Snow, an homage to the new owner’s frozen foods company, Snow Fresh Foods.  Because the boat will live in Throgs Neck, a straight shot from Hunts Point by water, Bill thought it would be fun to row Snow to its new home.  But at 87 years of age, Bill wasn’t about to do it himself!  Instead he recruited his old friend Kevin, an FDNY fireman, and a couple of his friends to row the boat for him.  And for good measure, Kevin arranged for an FDNY Fire Boat to support them on the journey.

Rocking the Boat Names first Pete and Toshi Seeger Alumni Award Winner

Stephanie Jaquez in 2006.

Stephanie Jaquez in 2006.

Stephanie Jaquez joined Rocking the Boat in 2005 at age 15, intrigued by a recruiting visit to her high school.  Right off the bat, Stephanie excelled in the On-Water Program.  Whether she was catching and identifying fish, collecting and testing water samples, or navigating the Bronx River, Stephanie was quick to master new skills and eager to share new information with others.  A natural leader, Stephanie was among Rocking the Boat’s first class of Environmental Job Skills Apprentices and proved to be an excellent teacher and role model to younger students, one summer even teaching a group of visually impaired students how to navigate the Bronx River by rowboat. “My Rocking the Boat family has been tremendously encouraging and supportive,” said Stephanie.  “I had never met such a determined group of people.  Rocking the Boat showed me how much there really is to learn in this world.”

The illustrious Posse Foundation awarded Stephanie a full scholarship to Lawrence University in 2008, but an unplanned pregnancy forced her to leave school mid-way through her freshman year.  True to the outstanding character she displayed during her three years at Rocking the Boat, Stephanie did not let the huge responsibility of being a young, single mother keep her from moving forward with her other goals.  She quickly got a job in the office of a produce distributor in the Hunts Point Market–Rocking the Boat’s next door neighbor–working full time to support herself and her baby daughter while she enrolled at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  Stephanie is now in her final semester, majoring in Criminal Justice, minoring in Police Studies, and studying for both the GRE and the LSAT so she can earn both a JD and a Masters in Forensic Psychology.  With these dual degrees, Stephanie hopes to not only practice law but also be a part of prison reformation, working with an organization focused on rehabilitation.  It is an issue she is passionate about: “The idea stemmed mostly from my environment. I was raised surrounded by drug addicts and criminals that were imprisoned for some time and then just released back into society with no training, no sense of responsibility and absolutely no help but expected to succeed in the same community that caused the issues. Studying law and the criminal mind will help me help them.  Not enough people realize that our system is the problem.”

Rocking the Boat is thrilled to recognize Stephanie’s achievements by presenting her with the first Pete and Toshi Seeger Alumni Award.  She perfectly represents values that Rocking the Boat proudly shares with the Seegers, who inspired the creation of Rocking the Boat and remained close to the organization and its participants (Stephanie spent a weekend harvesting a white oak tree at their house back in 2008!) during their remarkable lifetimes.  Stephanie has faced life’s challenges head on, believed in herself, and has already proven herself to be a success.

Meet One of the Rocking Manhattan Rowers

RM 2013

Two weeks after Rocking Manhattan—the 29-mile, nine-hour row around the island that raised more than $178,000 (and counting!) for Rocking the Boat’s programs—the event’s 62 rowers are getting back to their regular routines. They have regained feeling in their hands, backs, and behinds and their days no longer consist of evening rowing practices, bombarding their friends with email and Facebook solicitations, or receiving a regular flow of emails from us! But the unique experience of the row has stayed with each of them and so many have already stated their intention to come back and do it all again next fall.

We are enormously grateful to all of our wonderful rowers but would like to single out one in particular. Michael Lettera is in the second rowing position from the right in this spectacular photo, taken at approximately 7:30 on that Saturday morning. Michael, a 9/11 survivor, rowed the entire circuit around the island and raised his 3,050th dollar to surpass his fundraising goal WHILE pulling an oar in his boat. This photo was the first one up on his Facebook page and is mounted proudly in his office at North Shore-LIJ Health System, where he now works as Employee Wellness Director. Michael is a longtime supporter of Rocking the Boat’s and he was motivated to participate both for the workout that rowing around Manhattan gives him and out of a desire to help the Rocking the Boat community.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to support Rocking the Boat’s youth and environmental programs,” beamed Michael. “I saw first-hand, out on the water, the confidence and leadership skills that are instilled in students and alumni. Rocking the Boat truly changes lives, and it is rewarding to be a part of the Rocking the Boat extended family through events like Rocking Manhattan. I was very proud when North Shore-LIJ Health System signed on as a sponsor for an event that means so much to me.”

Thank you for participating, Michael, and see you next year!

Exploring the World of Work

Rocking the Boat prides itself on providing Job Skills Apprentices with work experiences in our Hunts Point shop and on the Bronx River that mirror what it is like to have a real job.  In the summer, we take things a step further and expose Apprentices to possible careers by visiting professionals in their workplaces.  Please enjoy the following summaries of this summer’s four field trips and let us know if you would be interested in hosting the Apprentices next year!

Apprentices learn about naval engineering from RTB alum Joey Ferrari

Apprentices learning about naval engineering from RTB alum Joey Ferrari

Electric Boat: Rocking the Boat alumnus Joseph Ferrari made a presentation on his exciting work as a naval engineer at Electric Boat, the primary builder of submarines for the United States Navy for over 100 years.  Several Apprentices are interested in pursuing engineering as a career and stayed behind after the talk to ask Joey more specific questions about his path after Rocking the Boat.

Apprentices visit an FDNY EMS station and meet with RTB Board member Carla Murphy

Apprentices visiting an FDNY EMS station in the Bronx and meeting with RTB Board member Carla Murphy

FDNY EMS: Rocking the Boat Board member and a computer programmer for the City’s 911 call centers Carla Murphy hosted a visit to a new FDNY EMS station in the Bronx.  The captain of the station and a paramedic explained the demands of their jobs and discussed civil service opportunities including part-time jobs that Apprentices could apply for while in college.  Apprentices who visited WXY Architecture + Urban Design, the firm that designed not only the new station but Rocking the Boat’s own building, last summer were intrigued by the similarities of the two buildings and shared what they had learned with the newer Apprentices.

Apprentices tour CNN and learn about television production

Apprentices touring CNN and learning about television production

CNN: John Duber, director of CNN’s new morning show “New Day,” guided Apprentices on a tour of Anderson Cooper’s studio, let them watch the taping of a segment for the show “Money Talk,” and introduced them to a stage manager, anchor, graphic designers, and a producer.  Somewhat surprisingly, Apprentices were most interested in hearing from the lighting specialists and were intrigued to learn about all the jobs associated with this aspect of television production.

Apprentices at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Apprentices at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Conservators Marijn Manuels and Tina Hagelskamp treated Apprentices to a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum’s esteemed conservation department where a wide variety of pieces—African art, furniture, musical instruments—were being restored or conserved as well as an exclusive sneak peak of an installation, scheduled to open in February, of a dressing room from John D. Rockefeller’s townhouse at 4 West 54th Street.  Boatbuilding Apprentices were especially interested in the period room dating from the 1880s, known as the Gilded Age, and appreciated the incredible level of craftsmanship that went into the furniture and woodwork.

The Week-long Trips: In Their Own Words


The highlight of the summer for 40 Rocking the Boat students was once again the week-long expeditions: 35-mile sails on the Long Island Sound between Hunts Point and undeveloped Calf Island off the shore of Greenwich, CT, with stops at City Island and Rye Playland. On-Water students completed the first leg of the trip, sailing to Calf Island the week of August 5 and Boatbuilders did the return leg the following week. Rather than attempt to describe students’ adventures, we thought better to let them express the trips’ impact for themselves:

The trip itself was a time that I could enjoy nature and also what every kid wants: time away from their family. This trip also allowed me to create new friends and strengthen the friendships I already have. – Raymond R.

My favorite thing about the weeklong was getting to know everyone more. After the trip, I was able to open up to people. – Abram J.

During this trip you learn so many new things. For example, setting up a tent and camping without showers. You learn how to survive during the weeklong and appreciate how good it is at home. – Matthew M.

The trip meant a lot to me because this was my first time camping. It was an experience that I can now say I have had and can cherish. But this wasn’t just any camping trip. We sailed and rowed to our destination, testing what we learned for the past weeks. – Demetria O.

During this trip I experienced many things that I would usually never be able to. I experienced the harshness of camping on a beach full of mosquitoes on Calf Island. I was able to watch a mast break on a boat and then having to deal with it and move on. – Genaro T.

I enjoyed being on Calf Island because it gave me a sense of wilderness. I really enjoyed the ghost stories told because they brought us closer together physically and emotionally.  – Maiky P.

It is a story I can tell my kids. My new motto: live in the moment. – Cory J.

Special thanks for sponsoring these trips possible go to the anonymous donor of the $9,000 Summer Sailing Challenge grant and the more than 50 individuals who helped meet it.