By Jason Cohen
A GPS-equipped Mini-Boat that was sponsored by Morristown-Beard School in Morristown was found by a family in Scotland in August.
The SS Beard, which was launched in December 2016 off the Bermuda Island along with another boat, the Shields Surfer, was at sea for 48 days and 12 hours. While the five-foot vessel stopped transmitting mid-ocean in February, it was discovered ashore in the Shetland Islands of Scotland on Aug. 6, by Jessica and John Falconer.
Lisa Swanson, a sixth grade geography teacher at Morristown Beard, who is in charge of the sixth grade’s project of monitoring the boat’s progress, received several emails and photos from the Falconer family. While the boat was badly beat up, the family was able to salvage some of its contents, which included, letters from the students, a map of New Jersey, a baseball and a dollar bill.
An excerpt from the first email says: “We have retrieved the contents of the boat, unfortunately the written documents are ruined and we cannot open the flash drive. It would be really nice for the children to communicate and share the information. Best wishes from Shetland, Jessica and John Falconer.”
The boat is part of a program called Educational Passages that was started eight years ago in Maine. Today, schools in 15 states and 14 countries have participated in 85 launches of GPS equipped mini boats.
The goal of Educational Passages is to allow students to follow ocean currents and winds, introduce them to sailing, engage kids in collaborative learning through international cultural experiences and increase understanding of the value of the hydrosphere as a shared resource through ocean literacy.
This is the fifth year the school participated. Its first boat idled in the English Channel, the second never landed, the third made it to Scotland, but was never found and last year, it landed in Spain.
The first two years, a father of a student launched the boat near Charleston, S.C., and the past three, it was put on a container ship that makes weekly runs to the Bahamas. The program is funded by a trustee at the school.
Swanson hopes the kids can communicate via Skype or email with the children in Scotland. Furthermore, she says this type of learning can benefit students interested in geography or other cultures.
“I don’t think kids at this age think much beyond themselves,” Swanson said. “It [the program] gives them an opportunity to understand people in a different country.”