Schools follow sailboat racers Whitbread: Race transports students on around-the-world educational adventure.

September 27, 1997|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF Contributing to this article was Sun staff photographer Jed Kirschbaum.

Besides maneuvering in the Roaring Forties and other heavy seas, the Whitbread Round the World Race sails through hundreds of American classrooms in the next eight months.

One class is eighth-grade Algebra I at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Essex, where students wonder how the 12 sailors on the Baltimore entry, Chessie Racing, can live without showers but wish them "GOOD LUCK" with an arrangement of nautical flags.

The students are learning that a local nonprofit, Living Classrooms Foundation (LCF), has strong ties to the Whitbread Race that began Sunday in Southampton, England: The agency owns a boat in the race and will keep track of its progress in its international education program.

As the pupils watch Chessie and nine other sailboats on LCF's Internet site, they will also read Capt. James Cook's journal, determine latitude and longitude, study Zulu culture and engage in many other exercises in the Whitbread Education Project.

All public middle schools in Baltimore city and county, and almost 500 other schools in Maryland, 16 other states, Canada and New Zealand will follow the Whitbread and see the world through the Baltimore program of printed curricula and the Web site.

"It's a chance to provide kids with a wonderful context for interdisciplinary study on everyday subjects," said Diana Fitzpatrick, the Mount Carmel teacher whose 12 eighth-graders have early mixed feelings about an ocean race that will take nine months.

Vince Sanzone said, "I thinkthey have a lot of guts." But Stephanie Wilkens countered, "I think they're nuts."

Lauren Ross said, "I think it'd be fun to do. It'd be a good personal experience." James Doged said he'd be nervous if it was one of his first trips, but, "Frankly, I wouldn't go out at all."

Brook Kohles' opinion was: "I think these people must have no life at all, but I guess it'd be an honor."

At first, Nicholas Kolodzley ventured, "The race wouldn't be one of the things I'd want to do, wasting nine months on the ocean." But he later reconsidered: "I'd like to do it. You'd get to see the world and it'd be an adventure."

Fitzpatrick's students will study mathematical and scientific aspects of the race, while Fred Dierkin's seventh-graders will examine social aspects of the places visited. More Mount Carmel classes and students will come aboard in the days and weeks ahead.

Field trips are likely when the boats visit Baltimore and Annapolis from April 22 to May 3.

Fitzpatrick and other area teachers received training this summer on the Living Classrooms Web site at the Weinberg Education Center, the foundation's home on South Caroline Street.

The exercise is an escalation of LCF's "adventure learning," a trademark of the foundation's 12 years of shipboard and land-based education for thousands of youngsters near the Chesapeake Bay, many of whom sailed for the first time on one of its several sailing vessels.

"The Whitbread takes us into an international arena," said James Piper Bond, foundation president. "It brings us visibility for months on the Internet and ESPN. It transports students from classrooms to an exciting new world."

Bond cited two helmsmen at the wheel of the Whitbread-Living Classrooms adventure:

George Collins, Chessie Racing's creator, 57-year-old board member of Living Classrooms and retired CEO of T. Rowe Price Associates, gave the money: $1.75 million to the foundation to build the boat, another $1 million for sails and $.5 million to educate children.

Parker Rockefeller, LCF's vice president and director of development, oversaw construction and outfitting of the boat in Bristol, R.I., and the education project.

After the race ends in June, Bond said, the foundation will sell the boat and put all proceeds into The George and Maureen Collins Scholarship Fund, serving at-risk youth.

The boat that was built and outfitted for $2.5 million may sell for about $1 million.

"There's not much demand for a used Whitbread 60, designed for a race of 31,600 nautical miles once every four years," Bond said. "It all depends on how well the boat does in the Whitbread. If it does well, we get more money."

Chessie Racing surprised many by placing as high as fifth last month in the highly competitive Fastnet yachting race off the English coast.

The Baltimore education adventure began when LCF hired two Baltimore teachers, Bob Keddell and Sheryl Barr, to develop the Whitbread Education Project. They have worked with teachers and developed curriculum materials and the Web site. The Abell Foundation supplied funds for the city schools, Baltimore County for county schools.

Director Christine Truett, also head of the Weinberg Center, said the school program follows national standards in math, science, social studies and language-related arts. It also gives special emphasis to The Maryland State Performance Assessment Program.

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