Decommissioned naval destroyer becomes a classroom

By: CHRISTINA HENRY, Associated Press
November 6, 2016 Updated: November 6, 2016 at 2:02 am
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BREMERTON, Wash. (AP) — Last week inside the mess hall of the USS Turner Joy, third-grader Madalyn McGraw and her friends from Gateway Christian Schools watched a tiny tin boat with a small candle inside putter across a tub of water.

"The heat makes steam and the steam makes it move," Madalyn explained, quickly catching on to the engineering of the small craft, which had a tiny tailpipe to draw in water for the steam.

"It's cool how the energy moves the boats," she said. "I love science."

That's the reaction folks from the nonprofit Bremerton Historic Ships Association want in students they bring aboard for tours of the decommissioned Vietnam-era destroyer Turner Joy, a floating museum on Bremerton's waterfront.

The Turner Joy has been hosting school groups since June, adding a twist to the usual ship tour and history lesson: hands-on lessons in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The program has grown in popularity since summer, and the Turner Joy is booked out two or three months for school tours.

The new opportunity for Kitsap's private and public school students results from a partnership between the Navy and the Naval Historical Foundation in Washington, D.C., along with local sponsors' support.

John Hanson, Bremerton Historic Ships Association president, was invited in April to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, for training through the academy's STEM Center for Education and Outreach. The program is geared to address an "urgent national need for more young people to pursue careers" in STEM fields.

Hanson, a retired Navy officer with a background in reactors, learned hands-on experiments — like the putt-putt boats he showed the Gateway students — alongside educators from around the country.

"We didn't understand what STEM was," Hanson said. "STEM is hands-on science technology learning."

Hanson and others who took the training quickly became versed in STEM education techniques through lesson plans developed by the Naval Academy. Hanson introduced the Gateway students to principles of thermodynamics using glass vials of colored liquid. The students held the vials in their hands, the heat from which made the liquid inside bubble, a lesson in transfer of heat energy.

"You watch their faces, you see how they react to science, and you're just taken by it," Hanson said. "It's not a job. It's something that's really enjoyable."

The Naval Historical Foundation has been instrumental in getting STEM programs in Navy museums like the Turner Joy across the country. The foundation has grants to help defray training expenses for educators and contributed to travel expenses for Turner Joy officials.

The Turner Joy is one of three historic Naval ships on the West Coast to add STEM education to their mission, according to Hanson. The others are the aircraft carriers USS Hornet, in Alameda, California, and the USS Midway, in San Diego. Turner Joy officials, including Hanson, took follow-up STEM training in both locations, as well as Port Hueneme, California.

The Puget Sound Navy Museum in Bremerton and the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport also partner with the Navy on STEM education.

Materials for the Turner Joy's STEM classes are provided thanks to grants and sponsors, including the Kitsap Community Foundation, Port Madison Enterprises, Kitsap Bank and Allstate Insurance. The Chapple family, of Montana, provided the putt-putt boats at a discount.

The Bremerton Historic Ships Association also contributes funds to support the program, keeping costs minimal for schools. More sponsors and individual donations are welcome, Hanson said.

During the Gateway Schools' visit, students not engrossed in experiments toured the ship in small groups. Kelly Zenz, the association's operations officer, led one group up narrow, steep stairways, onto the bow, where he described the ship plowing through heavy seas.

They visited the bridge, the radar room and the radio room. In one part of the ship, ceiling tiles were painted with the names of Navy chief selects, candidates for promotion, who spent time aboard the Turner Joy doing service work.

Student Alex Ralston, 8, and mom Sarah were excited to see the name of Alex's dad, Jacob O. Ralston, on one of the tiles, from his service last summer. Chief Ralston serves aboard the USS Louisiana Gold, stationed at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.

Asked what he thought of the ship and the tribute to his dad, Alex said, "It's cool!"

To make a donation or book a school group STEM tour, call the Turner Joy gift shop at 360-792-2457.

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