Leadership Program Puts Kids’ Minds And Muscles To Work
By: Alex Scofield
A group of eager but anxious middle schoolers from across the region stood on a Massachusetts Maritime Academy-owned floating dock at the mouth of the Cape Cod Canal on Wednesday morning.
One by one they slipped into full-body floatation suits that their instructor called “Gumby Suits,” which resembled oversized neoprene gingerbread men.
Their directive, given the students by maritime academy Lieutenant Commander Samuel H. White, teacher of the cold water survival course that was currently causing them some trepidation, was a simple, but daunting one.
“Just take two steps, right into the water,” Commander White said, “just like you were walking down the street.”
Zachary Hesse, a tall, thin 14-year-old who will begin his freshman year at Barnstable High School in the fall, volunteered to be the first enter the choppy Buzzards Bay water.
With a hard splash, Zachary strode into the bay; his Gumby suit never allowed the water to rise above his chest.
In an instant, Zachary’s expression of caution was transformed to one of pure joy.
This, he exclaimed to his classmates still standing on the dock, was “awesome.”
One by one, Zachary’s fellow classmates walked into the water and before long filled the area with splashing arms and legs.
Cold water survival is only one of a host of classes offered by the Cape Cod Collaborative’s Advanced Studies Leadership Program, which runs for three weeks at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
The three-week program is open to high achieving students from across Cape Cod and some South Shore communities, explained Sandwich High School science teacher and leadership program Coordinator Gilbert D. Newton, and its aims are twofold.
The first, he said, is to provide hands-on experiences in the fields of math and science.
Students take courses in engineering and robotics and work on capstone projects like building remotely operated vehicles that will be tested in the academy’s Olympics-size pool and designing mini wind turbines.
Mr. Newton said the second goal, which he considered equally important, is to provide the students opportunities for social and emotional development.
Students stay in the academy’s Third Company dorm from Monday through Friday during the three weeks; they are required to room with somebody from a different town.
“We don’t want kids to just stay with people they know from the same district,” he said. “We’re hoping by doing this they’ll become a little more assertive, a little more eager to participate when they head back to school in the fall.”
Parting with their young children, most of whom have never been away from home for a long period of time before, is difficult for parents, said Michele A. Dunham of Sandwich, whose daughter Katherine is participating in the program this summer.
“She’s an only child,” Ms. Dunham said. “I think this is going to help her in so many ways: academically, socially, emotionally.”
Mr. Newton and Joseph L. Gilbert of the Cape Cod Collaborative, who was the director of a similar program at Bridgewater State College, developed the ASLP program throughout the fall and winter of 2003.
Since that time, hundreds of students have made their way through the Cape-based program, many of them forming strong bonds with each other along the way.
“There are tears at every commencement,” Mr. Newton said. “These kids become really, really close.”
Many also develop a strong affinity for math and science that stays with them as long as the friendships they form.
Mr. Newton said that several ASLP graduates have enrolled in the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and now help to assist the program.
John A. Foley, a 20-year-old cadet from Millis who is about to enter his senior year at the academy, is volunteering at the ASLP program this summer.
He said the opportunities being offered to the students who participate in the program are far beyond what most young people are presented during their summer vacations.
“They get a chance to experience stuff that most people don’t get until their freshman year of college,” he said. “It gives them a step ahead and propels their education in a number of ways.”
The students in the program, all of whom earned high scores on their MCAS exams and boast some of the best grades in their schools, acknowledged that the activities they are taking part in this summer are indeed educational.
But for them, that is beside the point. This stuff is really fun, they said.
In addition to strolling into Buzzards Bay decked out in survival suits like the ones they see on television shows like “Deadliest Catch,” they have also gone sailing and done some indoor rock climbing.
Perhaps, the best part, they said, is that they get to do it with youngsters like themselves, ones who will not give them a hard time for putting muscles and their brains to work.
The students also participated in team-building activities, like one held outside the Third Company dorm, in which a group of about two dozen students have to navigate their way through a field of cinder blocks without touching the ground by building bridges with wooden planks.
“Every group finds a different way to get across,” said Commander Michael Kelley, who lead the exercise. “You really get to see the leaders establish themselves and the rest of the group step aside.”
“It’s a wonderful experience,” said Hannah M.L. McLaughlin, who will start at Sandwich High School next fall. “I think it’s great for all of us to get to meet new people instead of hanging out with the same ones that we always do.”
Matthew K. Klier, a student at Bourne Middle School, said that making new friends has been one of the best parts of the program.
“I’d say the best things about this has been learning new things about math and science and meeting new people,” he said.
While Matthew dried off after his dip in the bay, his new friend Connor Kearns, a 14-year-old from Sandwich, reminded him to stress to the newspaper reporter that the name of the dorm room they shared was the “Swaggar Cabin.”
“Make sure that you spell it in all capital letters with an AR,” Connor said.
Many students in the program have become fast friends like Connor and Matthew, though not all have dubbed their dorm rooms so memorably.
In addition to developing a love of math and science, Mr. Newton said fostering new friendships like Connor and Matthew’s is really the focus of the program.
“We want these kids to know that it’s okay to be smart,” he said. “It’s also okay to be passionate about a subject matter like math or science. You don’t have to hide that.”
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