The classroom is abuzz with activity as fourth graders at James B. Edwards Elementary School dart around measuring, sawing, hammering and drilling. On the floor, beams of wood have begun to take on their intended shape of flat bottom skiffs.

But it isn’t all fun and games, says fourth-grader Greta Massey.

“The saw is hard,” she says with a sigh.

After months of construction and preparation, Massey and her classmates will find out if they’ve built seaworthy vessels when they launch their boats during the Lowcountry Maritime Society’s spring boat launch this Saturday, April 21, 2018.

And that’s the point: The students learn by doing, says Lowcountry Maritime Society Executive Director Prentice “Tripp” Brower III ’12.

Alumna Hall West gives a lesson on reading maritime charts.

Alumna Hall West gives a lesson on reading maritime charts. (Photos by Reese Moore)

A native of the Lowcountry who grew up on boats, Brower launched the Lowcountry Maritime Society in 2014 as a way to offer all children in the Lowcountry experiential learning opportunities through maritime activities.

“I created the Lowcountry Maritime Society because I strongly believe that our maritime resources define our region, and access to those resources can provide young people with incredibly valuable experiences and opportunities,” says Brower who majored in political science at the College. “I come from a family of sailors and had access to small boats in my youth. I learned to sail, taught sailing, worked at a marina, worked on a charter yacht, worked in a boatyard and crewed for boat deliveries professionally. All of these experiences opened several doors for networking, jobs and fulfilling experiences – none of which would have been open to me if I hadn’t ‘grown up’ on the water. I feel strongly that all children growing up here should have those opportunities open to them, and I feel we, as a community, need to do all we can to open those doors.”

The society held its first in-school and after-school boat building programs in 2015, with a handful of boats launched that spring. This year the organization will launch 18 boats during the Charleston In-Water Boat Show at 10:30 a.m. at Bristol Marina, 145 Lockwood Dr., in downtown Charleston. A total of 147 local elementary and middle school students from James B. Edwards Elementary, Ashley Hall, Sanders-Clyde Elementary, Laing Middle and Charleston Day will participate.

But the program teaches students much more than just how to build a boat.

Hall West ’04 (M.A.T ’07), director of education for the society, says the boat building program curriculum is designed to touch on the science and math of boat building as well as a look at Charleston’s maritime history.

Zoe Coombs Niehaus '12 prepares students for boatbuilding activities.

Zoe Coombs Niehaus ’12 prepares students for boatbuilding activities.

“We see our program’s purpose as providing a project-based learning experience that allows kids the chance to apply and connect classroom-learned concepts in a real-world project as well as connect kids to our maritime culture and our environment,” says West, who earned her undergraduate degree in communication and her Master of Arts in Teaching from the College.

And the boatbuilding program serves another purpose, too. It’s a chance for Honors College students to give back through the Honors Engaged program. This year the College has 15 Honors College students who have spent the year working with students at Ashley Hall and Sanders-Clyde.

“It’s all about educational and community outreach,” says Zoe Coombs Niehaus ’12, who is the society’s chief operations officer.

Niehaus, who double majored in history and political science, says her work with the Lowcountry Maritime Society pushes her to help school-age students and college students connect lessons in the classroom to real-world projects.

“I like showing kids that math and science don’t have to be boring subjects,” she says with a laugh.

And when the students push off the dock in their boats on Saturday, Brower hopes they feel empowered by what they’ve learned.

“The hands-on aspect of our programs is, to me, one of the most valuable parts of the boatbuilding experience,” he says. “Learning and subsequently applying math and science skills that are relevant to a project can engage students in ways that traditional learning platforms can’t.”

Featured image: Prentice Brower, executive director of the Lowcountry Maritime Society, works with students in the boatbuilding program at James B. Edwards Elementary School in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.