More than building a boat

May 11, 2019

Mystic — Veteran Stonington High School special education teacher Deidre Toole knew something was missing.

While her community classroom program had begun to make use of the facilities at Mystic Seaport Museum, she felt the school needed to do more for all students when it came to after-school activities.

“A lot of students are interested in creative, hands-on activities but they’re not interested in sports, drama or music,” she said.

So when she asked Sarah Cahill, the Seaport’s director of museum education and outreach, for a suggestion, Cahill told her, “We’ll build a boat.”

And that’s exactly what students Dylan Breault, Dylan McNeil, Calib Melzer and Jake Simonds did this school year, under the tutelage of Patrick Connor, the museum’s lead sailing instructor.

On Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by parents, school and museum officials, they launched the splatter-painted Bevin’s skiff they had been building since October and took it for a short row on the Mystic River.

After the four boys came ashore, Dylan Breault’s father, Jason, called the experience “something these kids will remember forever.”

“It’s a pretty cool opportunity to gets the hands-on experience of building a boat, seeing it float and seeing they could do it. It’s a good confidence-builder for them. I hope a lot more people can do this,” he said.

And more are expected to get such opportunities, as the school system’s new alternative education program is finalizing the details of an extensive educational and apprenticeship program at the Seaport.

Building a boat

Toole said she had a good feeling that the program would be a success, as on the first day the students were at the Seaport last October, a double rainbow arched over the Charles W. Morgan whaling ship.

First the students had to learn how to use all the hand tools needed for the work. Then Connor designed the project so the boys would be on hand each Tuesday afternoon to complete the key moments of the project such as putting on the bottom.

There something else that Connor wanted to teach the four boys: “Learning patience is a huge thing in boat building,” he said.

While Connor has worked, built and lived on boats and teaches sailing, this was the first time he taught wooden boatbuilding to a group of students.

“It’s been a fantastic experience,” he said.

Toole praised Connor’s efforts, saying that, with his mentoring, she’s seen “gifts come out here that I don’t see in school.”

“Just being outside on the water, working with their hands, has been good for them,” she said. “I’ve seen a really big improvement in their confidence, which is the premise of all the programs I do.”

“My favorite thing is that we took something and made it into something,” Simonds said Tuesday as Toole asked the students to address the crowd before launching the skiff they christened “Big Ma.”

“It’s crazy to see something like this come together so quick,” Dylan McNeil added.

Calib Melzer’s parents, Joshua Melzer and Jessica Maynard, said that before the program, their son wasn’t sure what he was interested in but now he’s interested in shipbuilding and carpentry.

“This is the type of extracurricular activity we need more of,” Maynard said.