Amistad sails from New London with students in summer program

New Haven — The sleeping quarters are tight. The toilets need to be flushed by hand and the showers offer just a dribble of water.

In many ways sailing aboard the 129-foot educational schooner Amistad is roughing it, like camping, but “way cooler,” according to one of the nine high school students setting sail from New London on Wednesday.

The students are aboard the ship as part of a two-week educational program offered by the fledgling nonprofit group Discovering Amistad.

Students are not only getting a crash course in sailing but also visiting a variety of college campuses, taking in history lessons and participating in a meaningful adventure that will include dropping anchor off Ellis Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

“It is a very different kind of program,” said Rachel Margolis, director of summer programs for Discovering Amistad.

Many of the students involved in the program will be the first in their family to attend college.

It was the first time aboard a ship for Adelaide Khan-Asto, 16, who is entering her senior year at High School in the Community Academy for Law and Social Justice in New Haven.

Khan-Asto applied for the program with urging from a school counselor and said she was “astounded” to get an offer.

“I don’t really get offers to do a whole lot of things. This was a step towards getting out there, learning and having new experiences. And I’m loving it so far,” she said. “It’s only been like three or four days and I feel like I’ve lived out here for months. You kind of miss it when you get off.”

The second of two summer programs began on Sunday and students already have toured both Eastern Connecticut State University and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. They spent Tuesday night in the dormitories at Eastern, getting a feel for the college experience.

They were preparing for a trip to Duck Island off the coast of Westbrook on Wednesday, where they will stay the night before moving on to New Haven and visiting Yale University on Thursday.

Matthew Feliciano, also a rising senior in New Haven, said jokingly that he’s already overcome his fear of falling overboard. Feliciano said it was nice to get out of “my local environment” and he was impressed by Eastern Connecticut State University.

Jovahn Brown, 16, a student at the Science and Magnet Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut, said the trip already has been a whirlwind and he was looking forward to more exposure to colleges and learning more about the financial aid process.

Brown, a member of the Junior ROTC at the high school, plans to attend college after graduation, majoring in business and marketing, but also can see himself captaining a ship.

The hardest part of being on the ship so far was the tight quarters. “You can wash your hands in the sink while sitting on the toilet and take a shower at the same time,” he joked.

Phones are tossed into a bin to avoid distractions, a fact that initially elicited some groans from the students. Amistad Capt. Rose Witte said there is plenty to do aboard the ship and the students soon learn to live without the phones. One of the few occasions she allows students to take photos is during the sail down the East River into New York City, where there is a stunning array of sights to take in.

In all, the students and crew will sail more than 250 miles before returning.

This program, the second of two this summer, includes five students from New London and others from The High School in the Community Academy for Law and Social Justice in New Haven, Bassick High School in Bridgeport and Bridgeport Regional Aquaculture Science and Technology Education Center. The cost of the program is being fully subsidized by Discovering Amistad; the cost per student was not available.

Launched in 2000, the Amistad is a replica of the Spanish schooner La Amistad, which was used as a slave ship and in 1839 was taken over by its African captives. That incident led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of United States v. The Amistad and freedom for the captives.

An educational component of the summer program will include discussions of present-day issues of freedom, quality and justice and the trip will feature a visit with Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard Robinson.

Discovering Amistad took over operation of the ship in the wake of financial problems that had plagued its former owner, Amistad America. The group continues to raise private funds even as it awaits passage of a state budget that may or may not include funding to ensure the organization’s future.

Editor's Note: This version clarifies that the cost of the program is being fully subsidized by Discovering Amistad.


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