Several years ago, a teacher at Rye Junior High School in New Hampshire started a journey that would take several years and thousands of miles to finish.
In 2018, now-retired science teacher Sheila Adams purchased a kit from the Maine-based non-profit Educational Passages. She hoped the build-your-own boat project would educate her students about the ocean and its global impacts. The kit included instructions to build a 6-foot boat, which would then be released into the sea and tracked with a GPS device like a new-age letter in a bottle.
Sadly, Sheila’s students weren’t interested in the project that year, so she shelved it. The following year, her fifth grade students were excited about the project and put the boat together during the fall semester. Then COVID hit, and everyone was sent home for remote learning. Sheila wondered if the project would ever make it to the ocean, but with a little ingenuity she found a way to make it happen!
The teacher assigned each student tasks they could do at home. When the next school year started, Sheila introduced the half-finished Rye Riptides boat to them as well. The new class added their own flair and personalization to the watercraft, and it was finally ready to launch into the Atlantic Ocean in October 2020.
The students knew the chances of their boat making it to land were sketchy.
“Honestly, I thought it would sink,” admitted 6th grader Solstice Reed.
The Rye Riptides boat did not sink, but it did go radio silent off and on for months on end. It spent 462 days bouncing around the North Atlantic on a topsy-turvy course. Its tracking device registered 8,300 miles traveled before it finally hit the shores of Smøla, a small island off the coast of Norway.
Cassie Stymiest is the executive director of Educational Passages. When the Rye Riptides boat landed in Norway, she quickly put word on Facebook with help from a Norwegian Facebook page.
“This is an educational project built by students in Rye, New Hampshire, U.S.A.,” she wrote, adding, “It is an uncrewed vessel, like a message in a bottle, but we would like to recover it and have it brought to a nearby school to connect students.”
When Norwegian 6th-grader Karel Nuncic’s family saw the message, they headed over to the island and found the boat. It was damaged and covered with gooseneck barnacles, but otherwise still okay!
The next day, Karel took the boat to his school and opened it up surrounded by his fellow classmates. Inside, the Rye Riptides students had placed trinkets like New Hampshire quarters, a face mask signed by the whole class, a class picture, and other treasures.
The teachers are now planning a video conference between Karel’s school and Rye Junior High! Students on both ends of the transatlantic journey are excited to connect with other kids, and they’ve all developed a healthy respect for the sea and its powerful currents.
“It’s just been an adventure,” said Rye 6th-grader Jack Facella. “Every day when we would check on (the boat), it was just crazy where it would go with the currents.”
Some things are worth the wait! Isn’t it incredible that a little boat like this could make it so far in the ocean? We’d say it did its job. Students in both countries will benefit from this educational (and very cool!) experience.
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