By Becky Rowland, Mystic Whaler Educator
On a clear and chilly early April morning I find myself at the parking lot to the park under the Dunn Memorial Bridge in Rensselaer, just across the river from Albany, expectantly awaiting a group of 4th graders. When they arrive and pile boisterously off the bus, I feel my own excitement rise. This is my first sail as one of the Mystic Whaler Onboard Educators. The teacher and I exchange a few words and then I lead the group down to the boat. Upon seeing the boat, one of the students insists his friend hold his hand because he is, “afraid of drowning.” I assure him he will not drown, and his friend’s hand steadies his nerves as we continue down to the boat.
After the students meet their group leaders, we all climb aboard to meet Captain John Edgington and the rest of the Mystic Whaler crew. The group leaders, who double as our learning station teachers, are week-long volunteers and three-month educational apprentices. They join us from all over the Hudson Valley and from all over the country. They have all been trained in teaching our educational content, as well as in sailing terminology and tasks. The breadth of material we teach manages to be a challenge in some way to each one of them.
As the students circulate through our learning stations, I walk among the groups checking to see that the students don’t get too cold and offer a helping hand at each station where it might be needed. I find myself ruminating on the different type of challenges we all face on the boat; at the fish station some students find touching a slimy eel that we caught in an eel trap to be too much of a challenge, while other students find learning to tie a knot at the nautical skills station a big challenge. Some of the station leaders find teaching the Chemistry learning station manageable, while others ask for lots of back-up from the Educator each time they are arrive there.
After circulating through all five learning stations (Fish, Navigation, Nautical Skills, History, and Chemistry), with a break in the middle to enjoy a few moments of silence and then to sing a few songs together, I find myself in the Main Cabin of the Mystic Whaler, called the Great Room. Filling every inch of space are the 45 students and chaperone’s, as well as a few of the station leaders. We are below to let the students warm up a bit while the crew docks the boat. The students are enthusiastic singers, and we make it through three new songs before it is time to leave the boat, their voices filling the main cabin and pouring out the skylight and hatch onto the deck.
The students head ashore amidst many thank-yous and high-fives from the crew, and wave back at us when they are up in the park. As I help stow the deck, I again find myself thinking of challenges. I find the platform of the Clearwater and the Mystic Whaler an ideal place for teaching students environmental education, and community education. To raise the sails we must work together as a community, and to sail the boat the crew must work together as a community. There are so many other aspects to this community, including living in tight quarters, having a very regulated daily schedule, having little personal independence or free-time, spending a lot of time on boat up-keep through maintenance, cleaning chores, learning the content of the educational stations – and being prepared to teach 4th graders through adults – all amidst the fluctuating spring weather of the Hudson River Valley. What do each of us gain from these challenges? The sense of pride in the students eyes after they master the challenge of touching an eel or hauling up the sail says it all. As does the smile of accomplishment on the face of a volunteer or educational intern when they successfully teach a station for the first time, or elicit a positive response from the students. This is what continues to draw me back to this form of education, the great joy and success which every one of us who walks across the decks of the Mystic Whaler and Clearwater can gain by overcoming the unending challenges of life aboard ship.
Photo Credits: Matt Kleinman, Mystic Whaler Education Intern