By Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
Excerpt from the Sea Letter, Fall 2017 # 75
Oddly enough, in a city surrounded by water on three sides, the sea is unfathomable to a large part of San Francisco’s population. the sea is unfathomable to a large part of San Francisco’s population. We are not a Navy town, despite our many historic naval installations. Some of the old timers remember when we were a port town, but the old timers are timing out.
Being acutely aware of the city’s fading relationship with its maritime identity, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park’s outreach specialist Lucien Sonder and I decided that we needed to focus our outreach efforts on the little ones just starting on the clock. Our goal was simple, to create an opportunity for local youth to connect to the park’s resources and history in new and imaginative ways.
To this end, we designed a writing workshop for 8-11year olds entitled “The Sea and Me: Sailor Songs and Stories by Salty Lads and Lasses” and pitched it to 826 Valencia, a non-profit in the Mission District that focuses on youth literacy and writing skills.
The workshop lasted for three Saturday afternoons in a row. The first Saturday, the kids visited the park for a ranger led tour of the workshop lasted for three Saturday afternoons in a row. The first Saturday, the kids visited the park for a ranger led tour of the Visitor Center and the museum ship Balclutha. They also participated in a chantey singalong with ranger Peter Kasin. Along the way, we prompted the students to take notes on what they were seeing, hearing, smelling and thinking about.
We assembled a reference packet for each child, which contained copies of evocative photos and documents from our park’s library and archives, including historic diary entries and letters, sea chantey lyrics, along with writing prompts (What five things would you take with you on a long ocean voyage? What job would you most like to have on a ship? What would it be like to be in a boat with your pet and where would you go?) and a glossary of nautical terms.
Armed with memories of their park visit and their imaginations, during the second week the
students put pencil to paper to start composing short stories, poems, or epistolary fiction, about any maritime topic that inspired them. At the third meeting they finished editing their work, and we wrapped up the workshop with students reading their work aloud for parents, families and park staff.
We’ve led this workshop for two years in a row, and we couldn’t be happier with the results, some of which we are pleased to publish in this volume. It has been fascinating to watch young students, many with no previous experience on a vessel, take to the deck of Balclutha eager to explore. It is a joy for us to witness our everyday workplace transform into their adventure land, playground and creative space. The following are excerpts from the class we taught this year. Enjoy!
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