In a class afloat, lessons sink in Sykesville students take educational trip aboard workboat

November 01, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

History, commerce and the natural world came together for 17 students from Sykesville Middle School as they tested the waters of the Inner Harbor and hauled critters aboard the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's workboat Snow Goose.

Before boarding Snow Goose near the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the high-spirited group of seventh-graders spun a decidedly negative groove when Capt. Dave Gelenter asked each to provide an adjective for the water.

"Dirty," said Brandon Bard, setting the tone for others, such as Craig Barkhimer, who followed with "nasty," and Shawn Fried, who replied, "Icky."


The students were surprised later to learn the water wasn't as dirty as they thought. They tested the Patapsco River for turbidity, oxygen, acid and salt levels, nitrates and phosphates. Three test samples rated excellent. Two rated poor.

Carl Cicone, a seventh-grade social studies teacher, tended the flock of 11- and 12-year-olds throughout the day, which included sessions on maps, factories and shipping, water and the watershed, crabbing and fishing.

The Snow Goose took the group to the Key and Hanover Street bridges and into the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River during the day's explorations. The wooden boat, built for crabbing, is reincarnated as a floating classroom.

"Ooooooh, the boat is rocking. I don't like boats that rock," said one boy as the 46-foot work boat headed out. Through rain and swells, the children learned to walk like experienced hands along the deck.

The Snow Goose carries groups of students from fourth to 12th grade all summer and into the fall, said Janene Malamud, the first mate.

She and Gelenter are field educators who run the foundation's Baltimore Harbor Education Program, which has taught students from Baltimore and Carroll, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Harford and Baltimore counties.

The mini-history lessons included Federal Hill, Fort McHenry and mysterious Carroll Island, a man-made island fortress from the 1850s whose cannon ports inspired fantasies of pirates.

During the "Map It Out" unit, an enthusiastic Jimmie Beynon presented old prints of the harbor. He told his peers: "It's 1752, so that's pretty old -- like 100 years. There's pirate ships and everything, settlers and stuff, coming over to make the new lands and stuff, the farmlands and stuff. "

The captain pointed out the big ships, built for war or trade, and the Snow Goose put in behind the Domino Sugar plant so students could see -- and smell -- raw sugar cane being unloaded.

The captain talked of imports and exports, and of unemployment as he pointed out now-closed plants that once provided hundreds of jobs.

"Look at your shoes and see where they're made," he told them by way of illustration.

"My grandmother used to work there," Jimmie told him, as the boat passed the old Procter & Gamble Co. plant.

Several crab pots had been put out earlier but yielded nothing. The captain said, "It's very late for crabs, but I wanted to try because it's very cool if you catch one."

A rake-toothed oyster dredge didn't bring up the pearls the children were hoping for, but did yield treasures: old barnacle- and mussel-encrusted bottles; a bone; a piece of iron plate with Thomas A. Edison's name stamped on it; and numerous oysters coated with sticky charcoal-gray mud.

They happily pawed through it, seeking little mud crabs and worms. Katherine Fluss found and identified a ribbon fluke worm.

Past finds from the dredge have included an 1860s mug, one of the first bottles made in Baltimore, "and for some reason, a lot of duckpin bowling balls," Gelenter said.

The students lined up to pass the rope hand to hand for both the dredge and a fishing net.

"Heave, yo ho," they chanted, dissolving into hysterics.

By tradition, the youngest on board was supposed to kiss the trawl net for luck.

Brandon Bard, 11 years old with a Dec. 9 birthday looming,

thought he'd lost an honor by 10 days -- until he found out what the job was. When the big moment came, Shawn Fried sat at the stern, lips poised -- then bailed out with a flush of embarrassment as Jimmie urged, "Give it a big kiss."

All too soon for most of the children, it was time for the final item on the list prepared by Gelenter and Malamud: Dock, Sweet Dock.

They told the students to think back to their words for the water, then asked, "Who owns the Chesapeake Bay?"

"Us," came the reply.

"If it does get worse, who'll be responsible?"


"You have the power," the captain told them, a phrase they repeated as they disembarked.

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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