Students Make Connections Through Maritime Discovery Program

Seventh graders in Port Townsend see their classes and community in a new light thanks to a program from Northwest Maritime Center, a Humanities Washington partner.

This spring, groups of seventh graders sat in Port Townsend Bay in wooden longboats. They had a few tools, a short guide and an adult chaperone offering words of encouragement.

But getting back to shore? The students had to figure that out on their own.

Chimacum Stuents in Townshend

Chimacum Middle Schoolers in the Maritime Discovery program row the longboat Townshend in Oct. 2010.

These students were on the water as part of the Maritime Discovery program, put on by the Northwest Maritime Center with support from Humanities Washington’s grants program. The program encourages Port Townsend’s seventh graders to make connections: Connections to one another, between subjects in school and to their local maritime community.

This nautical expedition was the culmination of the Maritime Discovery program, an eight-day maritime immersion program for seventh graders in Port Townsend. The program has run annually since 2006.

While in the harbor, students think critically about how to work together to get the boats in the water, raise the sails, row and navigate.


Who: Northwest Maritime Center
Established: 1999
Serves: 600 students in programs and classes; 100,000 visitors annually
Mission: “To engage and educate people of all generations in traditional and contemporary maritime life, in a spirit of adventure and discovery.”

Northwest Maritime Center Logo

As the students work to move the boats, “It becomes clear that it is something not easily done by one person, but is achievable when working together and sharing ideas and skills,” said Janeen Armstrong, the Northwest Maritime Center’s communications manager.

The program draws out collaboration and new dynamics among students.

Armstrong’s own son is in the program this year. “Among his peers, he is one of the smaller boys and so he doesn’t always command attention,” she said. “However, he loves sailing and being on the water and is good at math and navigation … . This gives my son the opportunity to give valuable insights to the group. He feels confident and strong.”

The Maritime Discovery program also encourages students to make connections across disciplines in the classroom, using Port Townsend’s maritime tradition as a connecting point. In social studies, students look at how the history of Port Townsend connects to seafaring and exploration, learning about Captain George Vancouver’s exploration. In humanities classes, students write sea shanties and explore their social meanings.

And, as a keystone project, students create a “Sailor’s Log,” which encourages them to creatively synthesize what they have learned in other classes and express it artistically.

Longboat Bear, June 2012

Aboard the longboat Bear in June 2012, students from Blue Heron Middle School and math teacher Jennifer Manning pause for a photo.

“We believe that students learn best when involved in hands-on, well-rounded experiences that are interdisciplinary,” said Nancy Israel, the Northwest Maritime Center’s school program coordinator.

The Maritime Discovery program also connects students to the maritime community in Port Townsend. Students take field trips to marine workshops and the Maritime Center’s boat shop.

Israel says the Maritime Discovery program gives students “exposure to something new that they may not have known about (maritime experiences) that is central to our community and history.” Students this year have since completed the program, but it will pick up again soon with next year’s batch of seventh graders.

“This experience is elemental to our children’s sense of place, historically, geographically and culturally,” Nicki Hopkins, the office manager for Hasse & Co. Port Townsend Sails, one of the sites of student field trips.

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