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Maritime museum expanding skills-based education

FERRISBURGH — Deep in concentration, a student solders a circuit for an ROV — a remotely operated vehicle — that will be deployed underwater in Mount Abraham Union High School’s pool and later in Lake Champlain. Miles away, in the Boat Shop at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM), another student takes out a wet, steaming strip of white oak to be bent and placed as one of the ribs in a 32-foot rowing vessel. Each student is accomplishing tasks that help increase self-esteem, improve marketable skills and can earn academic credit that will help them graduate from high school.
“This is a new, more in-depth, and personalized approach to how our educational programs integrate into schools,” says Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s Executive Director Mike Smiles. “For years our educational programs have focused on half-day field trips and short outreach programs to schools. Those offerings have their place and are still valuable, but now we are offering students a growing menu of multi-week opportunities to develop skills with us that they are personally excited about and that will help them both graduate and be productive citizens,” added Smiles. “We value the leadership of community partners like the Maritime Museum who provide expanding opportunities for our students,” says JoAn Canning, Superintendent of Addison Northwest Supervisory Union.
LCMM has embarked on a three-year plan to inspire students through experiential and skill-based learning, adding new opportunities in classrooms, on water, in the field and at its four-acre lakefront campus in Ferrisburgh. Vermont Agency of Education’s new Act 77 initiative for Personalized Learning Plans has inspired the transformation. “In concert with schools in the area, we are encouraging students to be the leaders of their own learning,” said Matt Witten, LCMM’s school liaison. “Several students have earned credit for taking our Skill-Builds, and in the coming months we will be enrolling more students in courses such as freshwater science and underwater robotics,” said Witten.
Grants totaling $200,000 have been awarded as seed funding for this initiative. “We are delighted with this strong support for LCMM’s innovative STEAM Ship education programs,” added Smiles. “We are excited to transform our resources into a hub of innovative education, providing maritime pathways for young learners in the Champlain Valley. We are grateful to the Barnes Foundation, Canaday Foundation, Lake Champlain Basin Program, McClure Foundation, Oakland Foundation, Vermont Community Foundation’s Innovations and Collaborations program and the Windham Foundation for helping us to develop inspiring new educational partnerships and programs.”
The STEAM Ship program integrates Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM), engaging students in real-world issues such as water quality, phosphate management, fisheries, human health and climate change. “Our unique combination of traditional and high-tech skills forms a strong foundation for education all year long,” explains Witten. “LCMM can help students discover maritime and water-related learning opportunities in classrooms, after school, and at summer camps.” LCMM has rich educational resources not only because its staff is well-versed in woodworking, metalworking, boat building and aquatic ecology, but also because it is a research institute — the museum has conducted over thirty years of nautical archaeology fieldwork, research and conservation. “When we build kayaks with teenagers or teach students in after-school programs to use a map and compass, we are helping young people develop essential life skills,” said director Mike Smiles. “Our funders recognize that students thrive on this kind of learning experience and we are both grateful and excited to provide more of this type of activity in partnership with local schools over the coming years,” he added. The museum also creates curriculum materials for use by educators and home school parents, and partners with Castleton University to offer teacher training and with Texas A & M University to offer archaeological field schools.

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