On Tuesday afternoon, 21 sixth-graders from Eulalie Rivera Elementary jumped up and down with excitement as they finished a team-building lesson and for the second time this week got ready to board the World Ocean School’s 137-foot sailboat, the Roseway.
The school is in St. Croix for its fifth consecutive year teaching students about the importance of community building, while still ensuring they receive enough nautical education about the art of navigation and sailing to keep their heads spinning for weeks.
This year the school’s Youth Maritime Program has expanded to include sixth-graders, a privilege previously reserved for only seventh-graders. Every week, a new group of roughly 25 students selected from St. Croix’s 13 elementary or junior high schools is selected to board the ship. Seventh-grade students sail from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., while sixth-graders take to the seas from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Every day, the school , partially funded through the V.I. Department of Education with federal grant money, has a new theme for students to follow. Monday is communication; Tuesday is teamwork; Wednesday is trust; Thursday is self-worth; and Friday is reflection. The idea is that each of these values provide an important lesson about community-building and that by the end of the week the students have a firm understanding about what it means to work effectively as a team.
Roseway Captain Dwight Deckelmann pumped them up with a daily affirmation, asking the students to jump up in the air and repeat, “I am a star!” The kids shouted their response happily as they bounced high, lifting their hands toward the sky.
Once aboard the Roseway, the students readied themselves on each side to raise the sails. Every student participated in the rope-pulling effort – one kid, Kaile, explained that it required lots of muscles because the sails weighed more than 5,000 pounds.
As the ship then began to sail away from the dock, the students broke into four groups and were seated at various instructional stations, where lessons ranging from navigation and map reading to a history of the “Trade Triangle” were taught.
The curriculum has been carefully written to incorporate science, math, history, leadership, English, arts, and environmental and climate change.
Each year new lessons are written, and the curriculum changes slightly to accommodate the evolving program. For instance, to encourage teamwork and camaraderie among the three junior high schools—Arthur A. Richards, Elena Christian and John H. Woodson—the ocean school decided to make up crews with equal numbers (nine apiece) from each school.
World Ocean School Education Director Eden Leonard explained that they’ve have received extremely positive feedback from students and parents about the change.
“On the one hand it’s hard because the students are shy and reserved at the beginning because they aren’t used to working with kids from other schools. But by the end of the week, they are all working as a team and have made new friends and seem to flourish by the positive experience,” she said.
Another positive effect she has noticed is that troubled youth seem to thrive in the new element. They learn different things and have new roles; the concept of teamwork and community-building really seem to make a difference.
A former math and chemistry teacher, Leonard commented that nothing can compare to the experience of working aboard the Roseway.
“I just love how excited they get. To give someone a new experience like this is priceless,” she said.
The day was perfect for a little rough sailing. As the water would splash on the boat, the kids would scream in jubilation. A student named Nadisha said her favorite thing was the splashing water, and raising the sails.
The majority of the students, however, preferred the lesson on navigation, because, as one student named Krystahl said, “It was good because it shows us how to get to different places by using a compass.”
The rough waters didn’t sit well with some students. About halfway through the sail, a group of five went to the back of the boat and leaned overboard, learning about the difficulties of earning their “sea legs.”
One student had been sick Monday but was hopeful that by Thursday his nausea would subside and that he’d be able to enjoy the sail.
On Wednesdays the students don’t sail, but instead sit with the ship docked and get a full-tour of how the 12 crew members sleep, eat, and live together as a community for most of the year.
The Roseway is in St. Croix from November through May and spends the remainder of the year sailing near Boston and in the Great Lakes region.
Last year, three students from St. Croix and four from St. Thomas won scholarships and got to attend the 16-day in-residence program, where they lived on board and were able to experience the life of a true sailor.
The students aren’t allowed to take their cell phones, mp3 players, or any other similar technology, and by the end of the trip, are grateful for the experience.
The World Ocean School is a nonprofit organization and earns its money from annual fundraising events and from the nightly sunset sails they offer the public for $45 per session.
The program is also partially funded through the V.I. Department of Education with federal grant money.
For more information, or to find out about future events, please visit www.worldoceanschool.org or call 340-626-7877.