Education leaders take tour of tall ship Oliver Hazard Perry
The energy in the room was palpable as 13 Rhode Island teachers and school administrators discussed the positive impact that their state’s official sailing-education vessel – the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry – would have not only on their curriculums, but also their motivation for teaching in inspired new ways.
It was just last month when the group, including state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, toured the weather deck and lower hull of the steel tall ship, which is under construction at Senesco Marine in North Kingstown. They had visualized exactly where the companionways, crew and student quarters, classroom, wet lab, galley and mess would be. And though outfitting the ship with its three 13-story masts, 6 miles of rigging and 14,000 square feet of sails is still to come, the rapidly evolving work-in-progress made a massive impression – even more so when it was explained that its Great Cabin will be completed in time for a July dedication weekend in Newport.
“That will be a milestone, for sure,” said Jamestowner Jess Wurzbacher, the ship’s director of operations who has spent six years teaching at sea. “But this is much bigger than Rhode Island simply having an amazing tall ship to call our own. This is about changing the lives of children and young adults while inspiring the teachers who devote their own lives to challenging them.”
Wurzbacher didn’t have to do much to ignite a rapid-fire exchange of ideas after the group escaped from a whipping wind into the Senesco meeting room. In fact, much as a classroom goes from bare to full of energy when a teacher puts his or her hand to it, so too did the room come to life as the participants talked about collaboration and maximizing opportunities. All manner of experiential applications were touched upon, from the ethereal experience of sailing across the horizon, out of sight of all land, to the physical teamwork needed in operating and navigating the ship and how to use math and science as a means toward those ends.
When asked afterward her feelings about a tall ship coming to fruition with the purpose of education, Gist replied, “Honestly, it’s not an understatement to say that this is a dream come true. It’s a dream come true for the folks who have been working on it for all these years and have had this vision, and now for a teacher to be able to imagine the opportunity that our students and colleagues and other teachers are going to have aboard the ship, it’s just overwhelming.”
Gist endorsed the Oliver Hazard Perry project in late 2010 and has discussed it with many teachers since. She is now most pleased about the project having measurable momentum, especially with institutions such as Salve Regina and Roger Williams University committing to sessions at sea aboard the Perry.
“You can look at the photo of the tall ship and get excited about it, but it’s almost hard to imagine what it might actually be like,” said Gist. “Now that we are able to come and take a hard-hat tour like this, the juices start flowing, the mind starts going, and we start to think about what is really possible. So the energy that we just heard in the room, about how we could come together, how we could figure out what curriculum to build and how we would integrate the different disciplines and have reading and writing and history along with math and science and all the things that our students and teachers will be able to learn aboard the ship. That is when I think it becomes even more real.”
The Oliver Hazard Perry is the first oceangoing full-rigged ship to be built in the United States in over 100 years. She will be a U.S.- documented sailing school vessel, inspected and certified by the U.S. Coast Guard, and will have a capacity for up to 36 students on overnight trips and up to 85 for day trips, with 13 professional crew aboard.