Twelve local fifth-graders were lost at sea last week, lost in an imaginary world of British soldiers, the Royal Navy and guns and gunpowder.
They were selected to go on a two-hour educational cruise on the Sultana, a 97-foot, 18th-century schooner reproduction ship, which had come to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estates for two days of tours.
Among other things, they would learn that the original Sultana, which was built in 1767, had anchored near Mount Vernon in 1770. George Washington’s diary indicates that her captain, Lieutenant John Inglis and her master, David Bruce, dined with Washington on July 19, 1770.
The new Sultana was built in Chestertown, Md, taking over three years to finish. Completed in 2001, it has spent the last two years traveling up and down the Chesapeake Bay, making regular visits to ports such as Baltimore, Annapolis, Alexandria, Norfolk and Washington, D.C. Approximately 5,000 students participate in Sultana’s education programs each year.
AFTER ITS three-day stay at Mount Vernon, the Sultana spent time doing on-board activities for students in D.C. public schools. It will be featured at the Alexandria Waterfront Festival on June 14 and 15.
Cali and J.J. Blevins, Alex Mengistab and Eric Perez came from Mount Eagle Elementary School with Assistant Principal Steven Adleberg. Representing Woodlawn Elementary School were Shanita Manyfield, Betsy Diaz, Daniel Paterson and Tayab Waseem and their teacher Elizabeth Dehaven.
The fifth-graders who came from Groveton Elementary School were Philtilda Taplah, Chelsea Hicks, Kevin Prado and Trent Bradley. They were accompanied by teacher Bob Weaver. Kevin Simpson and Melanie Stanley, curriculum coordinators for Fairfax County Public Schools, also accompanied the group.
Stanley said that officials from the Mount Vernon Estate had called her to ask what schools were close by and she selected those three. “It’s nice that some of these young people may be inspired,” said Stanley. “Any of these hands-on activities will stay with them.”
Hands-on was the name of the game. After being treated to a box lunch, the students and teachers boarded the ship and set sail. They were kept busy for the entire two hours, sailing the ship, checking out the crew’s quarters and kissing fish.
Yes, they all took turns kissing the large and very spirited catfish caught in the net they cast overboard. They also competed to see how long they could hold the slimy and slippery eel that was caught.
HALFWAY THROUGH the trip, Dehaven said, “It seems like they’re enjoying every aspect. It’s a unique experience.” They will have a show-and-tell session for the other students after they got their pictures back. Weamer said that they would do the same at Groveton and said, “This is very impressive; it is the way to teach kids.”
The students all had something to say at the end of the trip. Diaz liked kissing the catfish and steering the boat. Paterson didn’t understand why they needed to use ropes to steer, and Blevins said that he was surprised that they caught so much in the net.
Education Director Nicole Tuma provided lessons throughout the trip, and so at the end, she asked them what they learned. She got an earful.
“They washed their clothes in urine,” said one. Another said he learned that the sailors had four-hour shifts. The trephining saw, used to remove parts of the skull from sailors who had head injuries, had everybody hoping they didn’t get a headache while on board.
Other things learned were that it’s easier to hold the eel on the bottom; to steer the boat one way, the helmsman pushes the tiller the opposite way; and that the crew sleeps in really small beds (even now).
It was a good day overall, summed up best by J.J. Blevins: “I liked kissing Bubba.”