For Searsport students, hands-on learning floats their boat

By Tanya Mitchell | Jun 02, 2014
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Searsport District High School student boat builder Luke Moulton, left, assists Master Boat Builder Greg Rössel, right, with getting one of two shellback dinghies set up for launching at the Searsport Town Wharf Wednesday afternoon, May 28.

Searsport — A group of Searsport District High School students gathered at the town wharf Wednesday, May 28, to send two boats they built together off on their maiden voyages.

This is the fourth consecutive year that students have ended their boat-building course of study in this way, a tradition that offers youths the chance to see the boats take to the water and try them out themselves.

Since January, the eight students involved in the class have been building the pair of shellback dinghies under the guidance of master boat builder Greg Rössel and a group of community volunteers. In building these boats, which were deigned by E.B. White's son Joel, the students learned traditional woodworking skills, but also worked with modern composites, learning plywood lamination methods. In addition, the students used mathematical equations to make stability tests, ratios for proper mixing of epoxy, applied statistics in making patterns for planks, and physics and geometry in their navigation training.

The boat-building class got a big boost this year from Wayne and Lorraine Hamilton, who donated the building now known as the Hamilton Learning Center to the Penobscot Marine Museum, which served as a much bigger work space for the students.

"This boat-building class would not have been possible without the devoted help of community volunteers, who either brought their expertise to the classroom to help the students or donated materials, or both," stated Kathy Goldner, director of marketing at Penobscot Marine Museum. "The Penobscot Marine Museum gratefully thanks Jerry Marancik, Dave Lawrence, Bruce Brown, Rob Griffin, Rich Fitzsimmons, Fred Kircheis, Fred Schmidt, Mary Ann McCrea, Pam Steele, Grant Gambell, sailmaker, and Wayne and Loraine Hamilton, who generously donated the Hamilton Learning Center to Penobscot Marine Museum."

At Wednesday's boat launch, Goldner commented on how meaningful this kind of hands-on learning can be for many students, whether it is applying mathematics in a real-life way or simply giving youths a chance to sharpen lots of different academic skills while doing something they enjoy.

"I wish more schools would do something like this," she said.

SDHS student boat builder Stefanie Knight agreed.

"I've never done anything like that before," she said, as she watched her classmates take the crafts out on the water. "It's better than sitting in a classroom."

Rössel told the crowd gathered at the wharf, which included parents, SDHS and museum staff and Regional School Unit 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter, that the class is about more than applying academic concepts—it's about learning to work effectively as a team.

And all eight students, said Rössel, accomplished that and then some.

"They were full tilt until the moment they left, every single day," he said.

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Tanya Mitchell
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Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.


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