On December 18, fifteen middle-school students became the first class to complete Maine Maritime Museum’s innovative Alternative Expeditionary Learning Semester (AELS).
The program, which launched in September, was created to provide a full-time, in-person school option for families in the community.In accordance with the state’s guidelines for physical distancing, enrollment was limited to 15 sixth and seventh-grade students; all spots were filled within days of announcing the program.
The interdisciplinary curriculum — developed in collaboration with a Maine state-certified teacher — followed state standards in math, science, ELA, and social studies while also fostering pride of place with a focus on maritime history and culture, the diverse ecosystem of the Kennebec River, and traditional shipyard skills. The museum’s historic campus and vast collections provided unique opportunities for students to explore these themes.
Classes, held outside in the museum’s historic shipyard through November, included a wide range of projects specific to the local environment and rich maritime culture. Students tested and tracked the water quality in neighboring Merrymeeting Bay via boat; researched, wrote and presented a proposal to the city council to bring a movie theater to Bath; sailed aboard the Bath-built 1906 schooner Mary E; and studied journals from ship captains and crew in the museum’s archives. The students also voted to choose a distinctly local mascot: the Sturgeon.
The AELS students developed a number of traditional shipbuilding skills, forging dinner bells and decorative hooks in the museum’s blacksmith shop; building three-legged stools and delicate Shaker boxes; and building (and racing) toboggans with lumber they milled on the museum’s sawmill.
“The inaugural semester could not have gone more smoothly. The students were engaged and enthusiastic about the program, and it was inspiring to see a new generation honing the traditional skills that were so important to our region. Great job, Sturgeons,” said Kurt Spiridakis, Director of Watercraft and Traditional Skills.
Museum staff are currently discussing opportunities to offer this type of programming in the future. Details for future programs will be announced when they become available.