Students Go on a Sea Voyage, but Stay at Home
By: Betty Ommerman
Newsday, February 20, 2000
Imagine being a third-grader and able to tell others what it was like sailing to different parts of the world, visiting exotic ports of call and learning about various cultures and ways of life. And then being able to say you did all this without even leaving your classroom.
That's exactly what students in Rachelle Wolosoff's class at Waverly Park Elementary School in East Rockaway can do. And they're able to do this because they shared a vicarious voyage with college students who actually undertook this journey.
The older students, numbering about 500 from colleges and universities across the country, were part of the Semester at Sea program sponsored by the Institute for Shipboard Education and the University of Pittsburgh. While aboard their class-room-at-sea from Sept. 14 through Dec. 23, they combined academic studies with direct contact with people and cultures of other nations. And some of them passed on that knowledge to the Waverly Park third-graders by way of e-mail, the Internet and regular mail.
And while the program's Web site, www.semesteratsea.com, posted the ship's location on a daily basis while at sea - an interesting way for the youngsters to learn geography lessons and mapping skills - it was the mail deliveries that especially excited them.
The mail often brought picture postcards, personal letters and audio cassettes from the shipboard friends who adopted the class during their voyage. The third-graders also received samples of currencies, foods and carved wooden animals from Africa.
"This is the second year I've participated with the Semester at Sea program," Wolosoff said. "It's truly a teacher's dream. I've always believed in making learning meaningful to the children, and what better way to understand our world and to appreciate others' cultures than through this vicarious journey.
"This program has allowed me to integrate the curriculum in all areas, including language arts, math, social studies and technology," she added. "The children eagerly awaited correspondence from their seafaring college friends. And, in turn, they looked forward to writing the Semester at Sea students."
The college students visited ports around the world, departed Vancouver, British Columbia, and sailed to such places as Kobe, Japan; Hong Kong; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Penang, Malaysia; Channai, India; Port Said, Egypt; Istanbul, Turkey; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Civitavecchia, Italy, and Casablanca, Morocco, before concluding in Miami.
Besides learning about people and cultures of other nations, the program is also geared toward increasing awareness of global issues and developing a relationship between Semester at Sea participants and vicarious voyagers from kindergarten through 12th grade. Schools contact the program to link their students with the voyagers.
During the voyage, groups of three to four Semester at Sea students adopt a class and send an introductory letter by fax or airmail to the classroom teacher from the first port of call. They also send a "culture packet" to the school from at least three ports of call. Aside from these items, these also may include the front page of a newspaper, a list of commonly used words and phrases, a map, menu, photographs, stamps and travel brochures.
"I felt like I was there with them," said third-grader Samantha Burwin. "It was fabulous. I learned what people in different countries eat and what they eat with. For example, if the Semester at Sea was in Japan, I thought I was there. It was so cool!"
Fellow student Casey Sloane also thought it was "cool" in more ways than one. "It was cool because they sent us lots of packages," he said. "I also liked that they sent us information on geography. That was really cool! And it was cool that they are students from college."
"Semester at Sea is important to me because I would not be learning about so many countries without them," third-grader Arielle Matza added. "Whenever my class and I received an interesting parcel or letter, we traveled vicariously with the group. The exciting thing is that whenever we opened a package from them, there always was something special in it."
And while the Semester at Sea program is officially over for the Waverly Park students, it's not forgotten. Information, maps and photographs of the voyage are still displayed on the classroom bulletin board.