HomePrinceton PacketReady, set, go: PMS students paddle their cardboard designs during regatta

Ready, set, go: PMS students paddle their cardboard designs during regatta

Princeton Middle School cardboard regatta returns after three-year hiatus

A tradition dating back to 2014, the Princeton Middle School cardboard regatta returned to the pool June 5, the first time in three years since COVID-19.

Inside the middle school pool building, eighth graders, who designed each boat to fit four people, filled the space with excitement for the school tradition as they stomped on the pool area benches, held handmade signs and cheered and chanted for their respective regatta teams.

Students cheer on their teams racing in the regatta.
Princeton Middle School 8th grade Cardboard Regatta on June 5 in Princeton.

“I think it was a great experience to have it back again,” said Bill Merritt, a Princeton Middle School (PMS) eighth grade science teacher, who along with fellow science teacher Janet Gaudino, oversaw the regatta and cardboard boat projects. “The kids enjoyed the freedom again.”

Groups of four students picked by their classmates guided and sat in the handmade built cardboard boats to compete against each other in the respective races that took place.

Eighth graders pilot one of the cardboard boats.

The regatta returned once the teachers and school administration felt comfortable after the height of COVID-19.

“This is something students do not normally do,” said Paul Skalka, a PMS retired teacher, who helped guide students with their projects. “There are not a lot of middle schools that make carboard boats and race them in a pool or lake. It is a challenge and gives the kids something exciting and fun. This is fun learning.”

A core team of students built the cardboard boats that each group of four students piloted during the races. They selected which students would pilot the boats through size and their effort.

“I talked to them about size, big guys and little guys,” Skalka said “I talked about scrappy individuals, someone, who may not be big, but they are a fighter. We give these students guidance on everything, but other than guidance everything is all them.”

The cardboard races were only part of the PMS regatta this week.

Some eighth grade students created smaller versions of boats to self-propel, whether through rubber bands or balloons.

Those students put their smaller version boats in the same pool on June 9 to see how far they travel to get full marks.

“It really has been [an] engineering and design process, which was the main drive behind this,” Merritt said. “A lot of trial and error. There has been a kiddy pool in the back of the classroom for three weeks and the kids have been able to test them in the kiddy pool.”

The large-scale boats took the eighth graders over the course of three weeks to construct within 15 45-minute-long class periods. Even the paddles were built and designed by the students.

“They had to figure out how long the shafts were and assemble everything,” Skalka said. “We gave them the guidelines and they ran with it.”

The boats were wrapped in plastic to keep the water out and make them last longer in the pool, the teachers said.

“The first year we did the regatta, we did two passengers per boat,” Merritt recalled. “We quickly realized we needed to up the ante, because the boats were not sinking fast enough.”

What makes the cardboard get soft is when water starts getting on the inside of the boat, whether by the students switching paddles and also having water sprayed on top of them.

“We are trying to see which one holds up the longest and they all have to sink,” Skalka said.

The Princeton Education Foundation, a nonprofit supporting education in the Princeton Public Schools, provided all the funds for the cardboard projects.

Not only do the students get to build the large-scale boats, but they also get to come up with unique team names, which included Gaudino Purple Peppa Pig, Merritt Red Bad Red Monkeys, Merritt Orange Banana Boat, Gaudino Green Tropical, Gaudino Orange Cars, Merritt Yellow Under the Sea, Merritt Blue Album Covers, and Gaudino Yellow Pink and Orange Pirates.

Additional teams were Gaudino Blue Favorite Playlist, Merritt Purple Aquatic Animals, Merritt Green Candyland, and Gaudino Red Gaudino’s Pizza Parlor.

Each of the teams began the cardboard regatta with their four selected students rowing from the diving board end of the pool to the other end and back.

The first team back to the diving board platform end of the pool won. Or the boat that held out the longest before sinking.

The students had to navigate a variety of challenges along the way. Some teams learned quickly paddling in sync with their handmade wooden paddles was a bit difficult sending some boats in the wrong direction.

Several teams found themselves pushed up against each other as they raced until they found a way to separate. Some of the handmade wooden paddles periodically broke for a couple teams resulting in students paddling with what was left of the paddle or even with their own hands.

Boats come close together as they compete against each other.

As races continued into the final hour of competition, some boats sunk as water seeped inside them sending teams swimming.

One of the boats breaking down and sinking on June 5. PHOTO BY ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF

The final set of races consisted of a four-way obstacle style race as the teams navigated around designated floating foam pool noodles in the pool.

The teams were able to get around them once, but each team was met with students and teachers squirting and splashing pool water on them to make the race more difficult to navigate.

Eighth graders navigate around floating pool noodle.
Cardboard boat team in the regatta gets hit with water from all sides inside Princeton Middle School’s pool area. PHOTO BY ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF

Eventually the boats sank, which marked the end of the 2023 cardboard regatta. Students rejoiced in the stands and around the pool celebrating their efforts.

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