Learning the ropes (or shall I say lines)

I wish those “What did you do over summer vacation?” first-of-term papers still existed. I could write a book, and I still wouldn’t cover everything. You might be thinking, geez, nerd. Alas, reader, they don’t call it the Nerd Boat for nothing.

A brief introduction: I’m Meghan, and my fancy title this summer was Great Lakes Waterways Education Intern. My time at Inland Seas was nothing short of extraordinary, and my love for this organization extends deeper than the Deep Spot in the middle of Suttons Bay. Rarely have I immersed myself in a position where I felt so focused and energized to learn. That position is nothing without the ISEA office staff, volunteers, and crew. You all made me want to show up to work with a smile and extend my passion to new generations of Great Lakes stewards. In my future, I hope I spread the same empathy and energy you offered me as I got my sea legs.

I remember stepping off my first wet run with a ridiculous grin on my face – my hands were numb, yes, but I was in a new place with new people, and whether I liked it or not, I was here to stay. I chose to like it.

After a month and a half of getting paid to scoop up mud with kids, I found comfort in the non-routine routines of day sails. Different kids every day meant learning to be adaptable in the face of all types of weather, group dynamics, and learning styles. I loved the challenge, taking bits and pieces of my best experiences and molding them into a teaching style. Above all, I realized how much I valued sharing conversations with the students about the material. I found particular gratification in learning their names at the beginning of each rotation and fostering those brief but vibrant connections with them.

As the chief component of my internship, I began work in June to design an educational station for our August sail to Detroit. Anyone in the office can attest to the boatload (Ha!) of initial plans for this station, and props to Jillian for patiently listening as my always-busy brain sorted the abstract visions out of my head and onto paper.

Ultimately, I settled on a station inspired by my favorite part of Schoolship – the two minutes of silence after the students raised the sails. I dove into research from those who observed this area first (the Anishinaabe people) as well as activities emphasizing holistic education. The station evolved to include soundscape mapping, a visual exploration of the sounds students perceived around them. I shared Anishinaabemowin maps of the Great Lakes and original Anishinaabemowin words for the waterways we sailed through. Respect for the earth is not exclusive to Anishinaabe culture, but I felt it was important to acknowledge how central their stewardship was, and is, to the land and water we visit today.

My internship plan dictated that I would combine this research project with a summer of public sails before heading off to Detroit. How wrong that was, and how lucky I am for it. Instead, I spent nearly a month living onboard schooners – the last leg of Schooner Alliance’s journey home and the overnight program to Detroit aboard Schooner Inland Seas.

ISEA is the kind of place where I could welcome the unexpected. I walked onboard Alliance with no crew experience and left with abundant new knowledge, a beautiful feeling of community with the crew, and a reverence for the water we sailed through. As Captain Ben said in his safety talk, “You go from the top of the food chain to the bottom of the food chain really quickly.” It’s true. That slight twinge of being offshore is invigorating and humbling. It made me feel alive, joyful, and fulfilled, and it put that ridiculous grin from the wet run right back on my face.

Two weeks later, I found myself assuming the position of Assistant Educator on the overnight program to Detroit. We were blessed with an incredibly mature, compassionate, determined group from Detroit’s Green Door Initiative, many of them only a year younger than me. This sail was challenging because I found myself learning and leading the kids simultaneously. The first time I threw a dock line, we were tying up at Harbor Beach in the middle of a gusty night. My deliberate, methodical brain was going haywire, but the boat was still floating, and now I know how to do it. Win-win. Again, a shoutout to the crew for their enduring patience through my many screw-ups. I am not ashamed of them – they are a part of the learning process – but it takes a particular kind of person to proceed with grace and kindness. I am profoundly grateful for the space they gave me to grow through many vulnerable moments.

I took this approach into my final two weeks of teaching in Detroit, in meeting new students where they were, adjusting my standards of “success,” and embracing the phenomenon of sharing a small space with people of all generations and life experiences. I am leaving this job with a powerful, familial love for the people who make this organization what it is and the wisdom they passed to me.

Goodbye, but not for long. Rachel already has my volunteer application.

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