October 26, 2014
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The boat 'Warwick' powered a learning experience

To the Editor:

There are some classes you take that make you wonder why anyone would want to drop out of school.
One such class I had the pleasure of taking was the unique marine environmental science class offered to high school seniors attending a public high school in Warwick. It was more commonly known as the class on a boat, the Warwick, a little Boston Whaler that would power our learning, completely owned by the school department and under the command of teacher/captain Lee Steitz.
It was an amazing class where once a week or so the little blue bus would transport us to our classroom, the bay. Unfortunately, this awesome program, educating and putting smiles on Warwick students for decades, has been cut by the school committee.
My classmates and I would eagerly wait for that one day in the block scheduling when “Marine” would finally come and the Warwick's engines would kick up water. The day would surely prove to be fun; our studies would take us throughout mighty Narragansett Bay, from the isolation of Prudence Island to busy Apponaug Cove. With huge feelings of anticipation we would get our life preservers with huge anticipation and walk down the inviting dock to the Warwick. Many of my greatest memories in high school were spent on the sunny, golden waters of Narragansett Bay.
Science is best learned by experimentation and exploration, and Marine defined this spirit of exploring nature. Marine taught us in a hands-on way that could never be replicated in the classroom’ after all, we had class on a boat. Inclement or chilly weather was no obstacle, as we would conduct our lessons from the shore, such as riding down to Narragansett to study geology, going to Rome Point to study seals, or studying aquatic life in the aquariums at Toll Gate. We didn't study the life patterns of a clam or fish through pictures in a book, we dug it up from in Greenwich Bay (returning it, of course, as per DEM regulations) or caught it hook and reel from the shores of Chepiwanoxet Point.
I understand that the Great Recession has its consequences and a class where students spend class on a boat seems like an indulgence of scarce municipal dollars. But it gave us an invaluable experience in science, the ocean and our city in a way no other class did. We truly learned about the bay and the people, life and nature that infuse it with its spirit.
The kindness of the people of Warwick shone through, such as the friendly wave of a quahogger, Greenwich Bay marina providing a home for the Warwick at no cost, saving thousands of dollars, or Don’s Pizza refusing to accept our cash. Those of us lucky enough to participate in Marine will never forget its memories, the knowledge we gained and the people we met.
Every day in Marine was an adventure. I can still remember one of the first days of class. It was a stunningly beautiful September morning, me with a shirt and tie for an upcoming soccer match. That was the one of the first times, if not the first, that I had been on a small watercraft. It was one of those days that make high school memorable, full of dreams. All of us had huge smiles on our faces as we grabbed the steering wheel of the Warwick as it sliced through the crisp waters of Greenwich Bay.
My parents moved to Warwick when I was younger so I could get a great education. Perhaps nothing symbolized this more than Marine, a program that most cities and towns would disregard as a waste of taxpayer dollars but that Warwick and its dedicated educators and teachers embraced as an innovated way to enrich its students' learning and put a smile on their face.
Yeah, we had class on a boat. How awesome is that?

Joe McClanaghan
Warwick


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