Students from Kennebunk High School’s Alternative Education program, the Landing School in Kennebunkport and members of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust stand with their boat, “The Little Boat That Could” on Monday. From left: Kate Grimes, Dave Johnson, Josh Ellis, Jackie Holmes, Leia Lowery, Cameron Fenderson, Kristin Cofferen, Evan Walker, Jake Patterson, Hayley Ham, David Patoine and Ed Sharood. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

KENNEBUNKPORT — Students in the Kennebunk High School Alternative Education program are getting ready to set sail on their latest endeavor.

“The Little Boat That Could,” a 4-foot composite boat with sensors constructed as part of a project by the Kennebunk High School Alternative Education program, will make its journey to Ireland on Dec. 21. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

The program is gearing up to launch a 4-foot composite boat that will travel across the Atlantic Ocean, gathering ocean data and making international ties with students across the pond.

The boat, named “The Little Boat That Could,” is set with a GPS and sensors for wind speed, and has solar panels and a camera. The boat was constructed from a kit purchased by Educational Passages, a Belfast, Maine-based foundation that seeks to educate people about ocean sciences.

Project manager and KHS senior Josh Ellis said that boats can be purchased from Educational Passages already constructed, but the group wanted to construct its own. He also said this is the first out of more than 70 of the foundation’s boats launched that will include sensors.

“Ours is kind of a more in-depth project than the other ones,” Ellis said.

The majority of construction was completed by students at the Landing School in Kennebunkport, which offers degree programs in boat design, construction and marine systems, although the students also worked with their engineering and technology teachers at KHS to design and build the sensors.

Ellis said the project was funded by an $1,800 grant from San Francisco-based RSF Social Finance, a nonprofit financial services organization that offers investment, lending and philanthropic services to individuals.

Leia Lowery, director of education at the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, which partnered with the Alternative Education program on the boat building project, said the company gives grants based on word of mouth, and does not take requests for proposals.

“So someone saw what we were doing, loved what we were doing, loved what our partnership does and gave us money,” she said.

Lowery said the company’s acknowledgment speaks to the alternative education program’s mission of ultimately having influence in the community.

“I really think what’s important is having them give something give back to the community, and having the community see what they’ve done,” she said. “It’s important for me that they feel connected to us, connected to their community and feel like they have value and a face here, which is important. We really value their partnership.”

The group will launch their boat on Dec. 21.

Once launched, the students are hoping the boat — a drifter — will catch the proper currents and make its way to Ireland, where other students can retrieve it and send data back to Maine. By doing so, said junior Hayley Ham, the students can establish cross-cultural educational connections with people across the globe.

Alternative Education Teacher Ed Sharood said the project is just one of many the students will complete this year as part of their community service work and experiential learning.

“Students come into our programming because they’re not being successful in the mainstream for whatever reason,” Sharood said. “So we try and take them out and show them what’s going on in the community, get them involved, take them to different career schools, tech schools, colleges and businesses. The idea is to have them figure out what it is they like.”

Ellis said in the past few weeks the group has toured both York County and Southern Maine community colleges, has volunteered at the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland and cleaned up roads.

Students also take the reigns on different projects throughout the year. Senior Jake Patterson said he is working with community gardeners and on constructing shooting tables for the Kennebunk Fish and Game Club. Hayley Ham is currently working on developing a website for the Alternative Education program to spread word about what they do in the community.

Ham hopes students who struggle in their mainstream classes will see the work the program does and seek information about joining.

For some students, the program has opened their eyes about what they want to do after graduation. Ellis said the program has been beneficial in that he has learned to weigh the risks and benefits of different real-life situations.

“I kind of figured out what I want to do after high school because of this class, and a lot of the career exploration components are useful for a number of reasons,” he said. “Just gathering data and assessing what’s good, what’s not. If it comes to looking at college or career school, certain things might be a rip-off, certain things might be really good. It’s just (about) double checking and asking questions.”

For junior Kristin Cofferen, the program has saved her from dropping out of school.

Cofferen said she was supposed to graduate this year, but couldn’t stay interested in her mainstream classes due to the repetitive material. After 140 absences last year, she said she just stopped going to school. But through the alternative education program, she said, she’s discovered a newfound interest in school.

“We’re not on the same topic each day. It’s really helped me keep interest in it, and it’s really helped me out a lot. I’m actually wanting to come to school now,” she said.

Others said the program has fostered a sense of community far deeper than the average classroom can.

“We’re more like a little family. We go out and do stuff together,” Ham said. “It’s nice.”

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected] 

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