The Privilege of Sailing

(Cross posted in The Tabor Boy Project and the Sea-Fever blog)

Those of us who have sailed on the SSV Tabor Boy are, by nearly anyone’s measure, “privileged.” We were privileged to have been given an opportunity to participate in a unique life changing experience and we took advantage of it. Most of us were also privileged in that we grew up in middle or upper middle class families that could afford to send us to Tabor Academy, a school that offers an incredible education and so many other valuable life forming experiences.

That sailing is often equated with privilege is unfortunate because young people from every socioeconomic background can benefit from participating in the sport. In fact, an effective argument can be made that those less “privileged” would have the most to gain from the experience.

There are few activities that teach young people so many important lessons about life the way sailing does: cause and effect, problem-solving, math and science, teamwork, sportsmanship, respect and much more. Participation in a sail training program elevates many of the social characteristics of sailing and creates a very effective platform for learning about leadership in the process.

In last month’s Cruising World magazine, Kitty Martin wrote a great article about a school approximately 200 miles away from Marion and a much greater distance divide in so many other respects. However, the common thread between the 2 schools is their strong connection to the sea and the incredible power that it has to change young lives.

Founded in 2003, the New York Harbor School is a small public high school in the heart of the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, NY.  According to their website, the NY Harbor School “provides its students a challenging and compelling high school experience that engages them through study of the maritime culture, history, and environment of New York City and its surrounding waters. This unique approach to public education is borne of the belief that:

  • the maritime world provides the ideal context for an educational experience based on rigor, discipline and collaboration;
  • infusing a standards-based curriculum with hands-on, inquiry-based learning engages students and leads to improved academic performance;
  • every academic discipline can be invigorated, enhanced and enlivened when taught in a cohesive context of New York’s relationship to water;
  • every student has within him and her the desire and intellect to reach the highest academic standards, given the right environment and expectations.”

Sounds good but what’s the proof this will work? Martin writes:

Murray Fisher, the NYHS program director and a co-founder, shared these notable statistics: Eighty percent of seniors will graduate on time, compared with a 7-percent graduation rate at the former Bushwick High School; NYHS has a daily attendance rate of 90 percent, while Bushwick had a 60-percent attendance rate; and the dropout rate at NYHS is less than 3 percent, compared with the city average of about 17 percent and the old Bushwick average of 25 percent. Finally, 70 to 80 percent of students are passing the Regents Examinations, a New York state graduation requirement for high-school students, despite the fact that 25 percent speak English as a second language and 15 percent are special-education students.

Martin continues:

Making the curriculum successful is a big challenge, as 92 percent of the senior class live below the poverty level, which means they live in a household that earns $18,000 or less per year. Upon enrollment, 90 percent of those seniors were below reading level for their grade, and about 85 percent of incoming students still are; in math, 80 percent of the senior class performed below the average level. “We’re doing six years of work in only four years to get these kids ready for college,” says Dudley. It’s working, as students’ rising grades and test scores prove.

I encourage you to read the entire article, especially if you are interested in some incredibly inspiring stories of young lives that have been changed by the sail training experience.

Wouldn’t it be exciting to someday get Harbor School students on the Schooner Lettie G. Howard to cruise in company with Tabor students on Schooner Tabor Boy? That would be a privilege of sailing worth exploring and supporting.

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Peter A. Mello

Father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

One thought on “The Privilege of Sailing”

  1. Thank you for such a nice analysis of the article about our school in Cruising World magazine. We are proud of our successes, though I need to point our that our “anticipated” graduation rate turned out to be higher than our “actual” graduation rate. (We just had our first graduation.) We matched the city’s 60% graduation rate, still tripling previous Bushwick High School’s 20% graduation rate with the same students. And we still have seniors in summer school whose August graduation should bring our percentage up closer to 70%.

    But I am also looking forward to working with Tabor Academy and Tabor Boy. We have been developing our ship curriculum for four years, but continue to struggle with cost and relevance. Perhaps we could learn something there from Tabor. And certainly the prospect of our students interacting with the Tabor Academy students – sharing experiences and knowledge – is very exciting.

    Thanks for noticing and appreciating what this little public school in Brooklyn is trying to do!

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