Alumni Make Waves With Voyage To Serve Public Schools

Elise Foley

By Elise FoleyThe Daily Northwestern

Northwestern alumni are sailing around the globe and helping students a world away.

They are part of the Reach the World Chicago program, which allows Chicago Public School students to use the Internet to track a sailboat’s voyage and learn about topics such as geography and reading.

“Reach the World uses the Internet as a gateway to connect low-income students and their teachers with travelers who are on real journeys, in the real world,” Reach the World Chicago sailor Ashley Metz wrote in an e-mail from Antigua, in the Caribbean. “The crew-members serve as their eyes and ears in faraway locations, providing a personal connection to other cultures.”

Elementary school students can use the Web site in various ways. Some teachers have used the ship’s voyage logs as models for their class’ journal entries. Students also can study the history and geography of countries visited by the crew.

The program was founded in New York in 1998 by educators Heather Halstead and Marc Gustafson. In 2006, six NU alumni founded the Chicago chapter.

The alumni had met through NU’s sailing team, and all had some experience with education, wrote Metz, Weinberg ’05. Hoping to find an outlet for those interests, the group began talking in 2003 about forming a non-profit.

“We were excited about doing something that would have an impact, and doing something together. How do we use these interests to make a difference?” said Jake Byl, Weinberg ’05 and Reach the World Chicago education coordinator.

The group began planning a non-profit that would use sailing to teach students.

“It seemed obvious that kids learn well from stories and adventures and we all talked about how much we would have loved a program that linked education and a sailing adventure when we were kids,” Metz wrote.

At a meeting about starting non-profits, they found out about Reach the World.

“It made a lot of sense to join resources with Reach the World,” Byl said.

Reach the World Chicago is designed on the same model as the original program in New York. Two “land crew” members visit classrooms and help run the program from Chicago, and four sailors keep journals of their voyages. The group has sailed to places including Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Bermuda.

The sailing crew visits classrooms at the beginning of the school year and then leaves on the voyage, taking pictures and keeping logs along the way. Crew members visit again before the end of the year.

Eric Stuck, 24, works as the “land crew” technology coordinator in Chicago. He visits schools to make sure they have the technology to follow the voyage online.

“I go to the schools every three or four months to help people get technology up and running,” he said. “The teachers there love me now.”

While the program is designed for Chicago students, anyone can access the Web site and use it as a learning or a teaching tool.

“The mission is to bring real world experiences into classrooms. We do that using technology,” Byl said. “We are exposing them to new places and new perspectives.”