SailFuture opens historic Norwood School and prepares high-risk youth for success • St Pete Catalyst
SailFuture serves high-risk teens throughout the St. Petersburg community, and with the purchase and recent redevelopment of the historic Norwood Primary School, the innovative organization is better equipped to prepare children to succeed as a ‘adults.
SailFuture opened its first residential home for fostered teens in 2016. The organization invited six boys to live in a 4,500 square foot waterfront home and became their guardian. The children spent six months a year traveling on the organization’s sailboat, an experience which chief operating officer, Hunter Thompson, called a positive way to build relationships between the children and their guardians.
Taking high-risk adolescents to other countries to perform community service has also proven to be a valuable educational opportunity, as they are trained in maritime skills ranging from first aid to engineering.
“Sailing has always been an essential part of the way we teach and educate our children,” said Thompson. “But when our kids aren’t traveling on a sailboat, we can’t just send them to an average public school. “
Thompson said moving through the foster care system creates educational instability, and SailFuture quickly made it a priority to start her own school inside The Waterfront House. However, he said the goal was still to create a true brick and mortar school built on the same philosophy. The historic Norwood School building provided this opportunity.
Built in 1923 to 2154 27e Ave. N., the Norwood School was purchased by SailFuture in December 2019. The building was subsequently renovated and opened on September 7 as the SailFuture Academy. In addition to serving as the educational headquarters for the organization, the facility will also support SailFuture’s case management, life skills center and mental health services.
SailFuture Academy recently completed its first term of classes with 50 children from its residential program and the surrounding community. Initially designed as a school for boys, the academy is now co-ed and offers a bus service to its students. The school is private and not-for-profit and caters for high-risk children in grades 9 to 12 who have disengaged from mainstream public schools.
“Our goal here is to find children who are motivated by an experiential learning model,” said Thompson. “Children who want to learn practical and applicable things. “
SailFuture aims to make teens better professionals, entrepreneurs and business owners. Thompson said the school is designed to create practical skills in the “real world”. He adds that the students are almost exclusively scholars and many come from neighborhoods on the south side of St. Pete, such as Campbell Park and Jordan Park.
“Almost all of our families benefit from the Step Up for Students scholarship,” said Thompson. “That’s where the majority of the funding comes from, and the Step Up for Students scholarship focuses specifically on low-income families.”
SailFuture Academy uses the maritime and construction fields to teach problem solving. Thompson called these industries the ship to teach practical skills with real-world applications. For example, he said, the students in the first term asked us to build a wooden bench. They first had to measure wood accurately, which requires basic math skills and the ability to add, subtract, and multiply fractions.
The project also required the ability to use power tools, follow blueprints, accurately measure and cut, and assemble parts. After the bench was completed, the students then had to decide how best to market and sell their product. To profit from their product, it was also necessary to calculate the cost of labor and materials.
Thompson said students spend a full day per week focusing on maritime activities and sailing. As they teach children to rig boats and handle sails, learning to communicate effectively to solve problems is the most important aspect of these exercises.
“If you’re together on a small sailboat, if you don’t communicate, you’re going to capsize that boat eventually,” said Thompson. “We use sailing as a way to teach these kids how to work effectively as a team and how to communicate to achieve a common goal. “
In addition to maritime activities and construction, students also have courses in business, communication, science, mathematics and technology. Students take five courses throughout a term, which lasts between six and seven weeks. The academy is open year round with five terms to one academic year. Thompson said there is a common theme and goal for each quarter, followed by an evaluation. The pupils then take advantage of a week off before returning home.
SailFuture Academy educators have “a lot of experience” in public schools, but are now looking for a more effective way to connect with at-risk students.
Boys from SailFuture’s two residences helped build the new school, from the flooring to the electrical wiring. SailFuture Academy plans to increase enrollment by 50 students for each incoming freshman class, bringing the total number of students enrolled to 200 by 2024.
Ultimately, the academy’s ultimate goal is to help provide economic freedom and social mobility for children from low-income families and places that lack opportunity.
“How can we empower them to get an education that will ultimately allow them to be successful in their professional careers and to be successful as independent adults,” Thompson asked rhetorically. “And with that, gain real economic freedom and have social mobility within this system and within society.”
To learn more about SailFuture, visit their website here.