Big ship, small state, significant impact

Posted Dec. 22, 2010, at 9:24 a.m.

NEWPORT, R.I. — Rhode Island students will replace chalkboards and desks with bow lines and mainsheets when they participate in experiential education aboard the Education at Sea school ship SSV Oliver Hazard Perry.

Deborah Gist, R.I. Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, put her stamp of approval on the project being developed through the non-profit organization Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island (OHPRI). When completed in 2013, the tall ship will be introducing direct-experience learning programs to students of all ages and varied skills in Rhode Island.

“It is a unique and innovative program,” said Gist. “With its new, specially designed, and technology-rich tall ship as its centerpiece, OHPRI is poised to offer a one-of-a-kind educational opportunity for Rhode Island students, particularly students in our urban communities.”

What stood out to Gist when researching OHPRI’s Education at Sea program was the idea that students could experience the art of learning in a more hands-on environment. “Incorporating at-sea, on-shore, and classroom experiences that transcend regional and cultural boundaries, OHPRI will bring students together to learn about the oceans and the marine environment and it will expose our young people to exciting maritime and oceanographic careers,” said Gist. “Rhode Island students will benefit from OHPRI through their hands-on learning experiences exploring the Rhode Island estuarine environment.”

In 2008, OHPRI purchased for $325,000 a steel hull that had cost $1.5 million to build. It had been conceptualized by a Canadian group that intended to complete a replica of the British ship HMS Detroit, which was captured by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the War of 1812. The hull is currently at Promet Marine Services in Providence, where its deck and accommodations will be built and systems installed. Once completed, the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry will sail as a 230-foot (sparred length), three-masted, square rigger—the largest, privately owned, active tall ship in America.

Local schools and universities have already shown interest in the completion of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry and the education programs being developed. For example, The University of Rhode Island (URI) and the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) have discussed ways to utilize the ship for many of their existing programs as well as some that will be developed to utilize the portable labs that have been designed for the deck of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry.

“Five years ago it was about bricks and mortar and owning things, but now institutions are thinking differently,” said John Corbishley, the Education Program Committee Co-Chair at OHPRI. “It turns out we can support one of URI’s undergraduate courses in underwater archaeology for a fraction of what it costs per diem for them to use their own research vessel.”

Corbishley added that grade-school students have not been left out of the equation and are indeed a large part of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry education plan. “We can run spring and fall semesters that include public, charter and independent school programs or even shorter sessions for up to 100 people (11 crew and 89 students) at a time.”

According to Jim Young, the headmaster of Rocky Hill School, who also serves on the OHPRI Education Committee, there is nothing more inspiring to teachers than getting kids out of their environments to learn something new and learn about other students that are different than themselves.

“That’s what can happen aboard the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry when teachers from the private, public and charter schools collaborate,” he said. “Even at the youngest ages … rather than take fourth and fifth graders to Sturbridge or Mystic, they can be taken to explore a tall ship. They can learn to measure and what it takes to move things; meet other students from different backgrounds; then go back to their classrooms and use a curriculum upon which the teachers, who have also been aboard, can build. Later, say, when the ship goes to the Galapagos, the kids can follow it online with its state-of-the art communications systems, learning about the world and Rhode Island history. There are so many layers to this; it’s like peeling back an onion.”

“Education at Sea presents an exciting academic opportunity for our students to learn in unique and collaborative ways,” added Deborah Gist. “Educational programs such as OHPRI’s will make a significant difference in the learning experiences of our youth.”

For more information or to contribute to the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry ocean classroom project, contact Vice-Chair Perry Lewis at OHPRI headquarters, Buliod-Perry House, 29 Touro St., Washington Square, Newport, R.I., 401-841-0080. More information also can be found at www.OHPRI.org. An animated 3-D drawing of the ship’s hull can be found at http://www.baymarine.us/animation.html.

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