Glenvar High special needs students gain confidence by building canoe

Two years of hard work has paid off

SALEM, Va. – Students at Glenvar High School are celebrating a major milestone, as two years of hard work comes to an end. This week marks the first time a wooden canoe built by special needs students in a woodshop class was put on the water.

Building a full-size canoe like this is not a typical woodshop class assignment, which is exactly what drew their teacher John Franklin to the idea back in 2016. Once the plan was in place, he was awarded grant money to pay for the supplies and worked on a design that would appeal to the small class of students.

Over the past two years, they’ve put the canoe together piece by piece, sanding it down and coating the wood with fiberglass to protect it from the water.

“Working with these guys to build this and seeing it on the water will probably be the highlight of my career in my years of teaching,” says Franklin. “I’m really looking forward to it and seeing their excitement is the reward.”

That excitement was easy to see as the students reached the end of their hike from Camp Roanoke to the Spring Hollow Reservoir. When they saw the canoe sitting near the water, students started cheering and yelling in excitement, ready to test it out.

Before they took to the water, Mr. Franklin and his students took a minute to reminisce over all of the hard work that went into making this dream a reality.

For several of the students, this marks somewhat of a goodbye celebration—as their time in the special needs program at Glenvar High School comes to an end and they prepare to graduate.

As they move on from Glenvar, they’re taking with them some important lessons they learned through this program. The project has not only helped them to develop fine motor skills, but also a sense of self-esteem and confidence as well as the importance of communication and working together.

“We talk to them about teamwork and working together to complete a goal.  We talk about science and wood and fiberglass and bringing several elements together for a common goal,” says Franklin. “A typical high school student might say, ‘I don’t want to do that, it’s boring.’ But these kids don’t say that. Whatever you’re doing they want to be involved and they want to be a part of it.”

Each student was able to be a special part of a trip on the water they say they won’t forget any time soon.

Now that the wooden canoe has made its initial voyage on the water, Franklin and his class are trying to decide what to do next with the hand-built boat. Franklin says his ultimate goal is to auction it off, using the money to support the special needs program at Glenvar High School.

There's no word on whether this is a project that will continue in the future, but Franklin says it’s something he’d like to do with even more students.