LANGLEY — When the first of 200-plus elementary students from the South Whidbey School District stepped aboard vessels in the Langley harbor earlier this month, the concept of “field trips” was forever transformed. At least on Whidbey Island.
The Carlyn, a scientific research vessel, and the Lady Washington, a historical “tall ship,” sailed in and out of Langley for several days, teaming with enthusiastic fourth and sixth graders while launching an innovative education program.
Susie Richards, principal of South Whidbey Elementary School K-4, explained how such programs relieve the pressure young people today feel over what’s happening with the environment and climate change and gives them a real way to make a difference.
“We’re going to really have a focus on the Salish Sea that surrounds our beautiful island and help our kids feel more connected to it,” Richards said. “It will help their academic learning have meaning and relevance as related to their local home and local community.”
When exploring the outdoors through expeditions such as the sailings this week, students may forget there’s some in-depth learning going on. From skill-building to collaborations, problem-solving and seeing marine life through scientific lenses, they are connecting with the world around them in new ways.
The Carlyn is a 61-foot yawl designed specifically for experiential education. It hosted the sixth graders over two days for a marine science program. The boat is part of Salish Sea Expeditions, whose mission is to inspire youth to “connect with the marine environment through boat-based scientific inquiry and hands-on learning.”
That translated into hands-on-deck experiences and education about the ecosystem, water-quality issues and nautical science. Students worked on navigation, latitude and longitude, salinity, analysis with oceanographic equipment and observed plankton and microplastic through microscopes in the onboard lab.
On a Wednesday, the Carlyn embarked on a journey carrying a group of fifth- to sixth-grade girls funded by a “No Child Left Inside” grant created by the state Legislature. The program facilitates outdoor environmental and other natural resource-based education to encourage academic performance while building things like self-esteem, personal responsibility, health and understanding of nature.
On a Thursday and Friday, the South Whidbey fourth-graders boarded the Lady Washington for a Washington State History expedition and helped to set and trim the sails before gliding out to sea.
Capt. Jamie Trost cut the engines while deckhands called for silence as the wind gently rocked the vessel. After a moment, the students were asked what they “didn’t” hear, and the answers came quickly: honking cars, cannons, cell phones, televisions. The point was obvious: Being aboard Lady Washington was like falling back to days gone by.
The crew made the past come alive as students rotated through three onboard stations. Joining Trost on the upper deck, they studied the science of speed, depth, direction and timekeeping. The young sailors then ducked below deck to get schooled in trade routes and cargo with maps and artifacts.
On the bow, boys and girls wrinkled up their noses at the smell of pig snouts and other sailor grub while learning how their ancestors survived on extended journeys. Sea shanties and stories ended the day’s work in much the same way sailors of old passed time on the high seas.
This story originally appeared in the South Whidbey Record, a sibling paper to the Herald.