When the tall ships sail into New London harbor for OpSail 2012CT next weekend, there will be five New London students eagerly waving in greeting. But they won’t be waving from the shore. They’ll be waving back to family and friends from the deck of the AJ Meerwald after having spent five days at sea.
The AJ Meerwald is New Jersey's tall ship and, as a nonprofit marine heritage vessel, it serves as a floating classroom to teach young people about the marine environment. The five New London students, (including three from New London High School, one from the Science and Technology Magnet High School and one from the ISSAC charter school), will head to New Jersey on July 2 to board the ship and then spend five days learning the ropes of sailing and studying the marine environment.
Bruce MacDonald, OpSail 2012CT spokesman, said organizers wanted to offer this opportunity to young people because, though the event commemorates the role the region played in the War of 1812, “it’s not only a celebration of our maritime heritage, it’s a celebration of the future of our young people,” he said. “It’s a learning experience working together on a ship.”
The lucky five were chosen from a number of students who signed up for the opportunity at the Drop-In Learning Center in New London. Although they were hard pressed to answer when asked why they thought they were picked to go, most of the young people are active in community service and all of them have sailed at some point.
New London High School student Mychal Brown, 16, admitted to being a bit nervous about the prospect of spending so much time at sea. John Adams, 16, on the other hand, is really looking forward to the chance to sail on such a large vessel. Adams has been sailing since he was a freshman at the Science and Technology Magnet School.
“I was racing on a boat called Breaking Wind,” he said, with a smile.
Learning to sail is one of the many opportunities offered by the Drop-In Learning Center, which sends kids to the New London Community Boating Program every summer.
“I’ve been doing this for quite a few summers now,” said Ayzel Morales, 12, adding that he spent this week sailing solo as part of the program.
Drop-In Learning Center Executive Director Reona Dyess brought all the children who attend the center to the press conference held today announcing the trip, so they would have a chance to see the kind of exciting possibilities open to them.
“I think all youth should have this opportunity,” said Dyess. “This is hands-on learning.”
Sailing as part of a fleet of tall ships, however, is something few people will ever have the chance to experience.
“It’s going to be an amazing sight,” New London Mayor Daryl Finizio told the students. “It’s something I’ve never gotten the chance to do, so I’m jealous! We hope it’s something you learn from and carry with you for the rest of your life.”