Living and learning Tenth anniversary: Maritime program helps urban kids get a firmer grip on future.

November 23, 1995

IT WOULD SEEM silly to suggest that one way to reach out to urban kids is to teach them to sail, to repair and build boats or take care of animals on a farm. Yet this is exactly what Baltimore-based Living Classrooms Foundation has been doing for the past 10 years with considerable success.

"In Living Classrooms the classrooms are everywhere," says James Piper Bond, executive director of the organization that will work with more than 25,000 Maryland kids this year, 90 percent of them males.

Living Classrooms Foundation's headquarters is in an old lighthouse at Inner Harbor's Pier 5, its main campus is in Fells rTC Point and its llama farm in Harford County. With the construction of the $2 million Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Education Center in Fells Point, the organization is now on the treshhold of a major expansion that will complete its transformation to an alternative education provider that will be able to grant not only GED but high-school diplomas to former drop-outs.

Formalized academic programs will not replace the emphasis on maritime and craft skills, however. The first thing a Living Classrooms enrollee builds is a tool box. Further woodworking ,, activities involve building garden chairs or repairing boats that the foundation will either use or sell to raise funds. Each day, participants are asked to evaluate their performance. If tutors agree with that rating, the enrollee gets an extra point.

Living Classrooms Foundation operates a "pungy" schooner, a Chesapeake Bay workboat and a skipjack to take participants out to the bay to learn a variety of navigational and scientific skills. Its staff members seem convinced that few things teach quick decision-making, responsibility and leadership qualities as effectively as sailing. "These are not one-day field trips but an integral part of education," observes one.

Most Living Classroom students are African-Americans from the inner city. To them the program teaches history as well by emphasizing that blacks played a role in Baltimore's development as a port city. Appropriately, the foundation's Fells Point operation is just a few steps away from a house where Frederick Douglass, the anti-slavery activist and ship caulker, once lived.

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