Forty years ago, an intrepid team of students and teachers packed up a van and headed west for a term of adventure-based learning. Mountain Classroom was the first attempt to marry a college preparatory academic curriculum and hands-on experience. They studied Native American cultures on reservations, geology while rock climbing, water resource management from kayaks and American liturature at campsites and small town libraries. The program did not emanate from a clearly defined mission; rather, it shaped the mission of a school searching for a bold, new identity. Language immersion programs in France and Spain were logical extensions implemented two years later, and in 1993--twenty years ago this week--the first Ocean Classroom sailed for the Caribbean aboard the schooner Harvey Gamage.
Yesterday, twenty-two students boarded Harvey Gamage at Portland, Maine for Ocean Classroom 2013. Most of them posed for a photo before leaving Andover.
They had already been divided into groups called "watches." Each watch was immediately oriented to the ship by members of the crew.
Their orientation was interrupted by the arrival of parents and family who were granted one hour to tour the ship, pose for photos, exchange hugs and say goodbye.
The fact that the Gamage has a professional crew does not mean that Proctor students are passengers! On the contrary, with guidance from those with experience, students take turns on their watches raising and lower sails, navigating, steering and ultimately assuming responsibility for the safety of the ship and everyone aboard. The following images are from past Ocean Classroom passages.
Today, they will sail out into the Gulf of Maine and turn south. They will study maritime literature, marine biology and oceanography, visit historic ports, and learn navigational math. They will experience magnificent reaches with dolphin dancing in bow waves, and they will suffer sleepless nights, damp bunks and seasickness. They will sail two weeks without stopping, from Charleston, S.C to the Dominican Republic, where they will volunteer at a local orphanage.
They will sail east through the American and British Virgin Islands. They will run before trade winds to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to finish projects, pack up and return to Proctor.
They will return to Proctor having changed. They will have experienced the power of teamwork as never before. Each will have overcome perceived limitations in a way that will make future obstacles seem trivial. They will cherish memories of the structure, discipline and cohesiveness of their watch groups.
Back in Portland, a sign visible from the ship offers a well-known sailor's benediction:
Home for the next nine weeks, the 130-foot schooner Harvey Gamage in Portland, moments after students boarded.
Parents, grandparents and siblings arrive for an hour of photos and goodbyes.
George Emeny, who recalls the first Mountain Classroom, poses with grand-daughter Morgan '15 and Morgan's mom.
Mike Henriques has attended eight Ocean Classroom send-offs. This time, he attends both as Head of School and as father of Olivia '15.
Program director David Pilla speaks of the transformational power of learning at sea.
Hazel gets a hug from her little brother.
Ocean Classroom alumni Evan Gaskin, Sam Brown and Ali Mitchell (all Class of 2011) came down from Maine Maritime!