learn / 2015

Adventure Education Aboard L.A.s Official Tall Ships

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Los Angeles Maritime Institute

Since 1992, our at-sea programs have proven the effectiveness of adventure learning experiences for at-risk youth in Los Angeles, making a direct impact on educational, economic, and social outcomes for more than 60,000 young people. With this grant, we will provide 40 at-sea programs for middle schools who cannot afford to pay and are already on our waiting list, and "free" community programs (Sail LA!) where Angelenos can sail with their families and become part of a real working crew.


In what areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • County of Los Angeles
  • City of Los Angeles
  • LAUSD

How do you plan to use these resources to make change?

  • Engage residents and stakeholders
  • Expand a pilot or a program
  • Mobilize for systems change
  • Advocate with policymakers and leaders

How will your proposal improve the following “Learn” metrics?

  • Percent of community college students completing a certificate, degree, or transfer-related program in six years
  • Youth unemployment and underemployment
  • District-wide graduation rates
  • HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math
  • Academic Performance Index* scores
  • Student education pipeline (an integrated network of pre-schools, K-12 institutions, and higher education systems that prepares students for seamless transitions between high school, higher ed
  • Suspension and expulsion rates (Dream Metric)
  • Truancy rates in elementary and middle schools (Dream Metric)
  • Students perceived sense of safety at and on the way to school (Dream Metric)

Describe in greater detail how you will make LA the best place to learn.

Our “learning by doing” programs have been operating on the L.A. Waterfront for 23 years. Our proven ability to reach students in new and compelling ways, coupled with a vibrant educational venue (tall ships at sea), is groundbreaking. Our unique program improves students’ ability and interest in continuing their education, particularly in S.T.E.M. subjects, while opening doors of opportunity for maritime careers and vocational training. Our program combines academics, recreation, real world relevance, and fosters lifelong relationships resulting in a win for students, their parents, and ultimately our community.

Our tall ships provide a challenging and nurturing environment for youth to overcome perceived physical, mental, and emotional limitations. It is very effective with adolescents who are not coping well with the demands of society and are at risk of dropping out of school. Such youths often see themselves as being incapable of living in harmony with mainstream society.

Adventure education at sea enhances the growth of developing skills such as awareness, communication, and teamwork. Our programs offer real life experience in critical thinking, self-reliance, and the pure enjoyment of being on the water.

Recent studies show children are spending less time outdoors and are averaging 50 hours of screen time each week. This sedentary behavior contributes to obesity and health problems such as type II diabetes. Movement not only improves our physical health, but also gives a significant boost to our learning abilities. As brain scientist John Medina explains, exercise improves cognition by increasing oxygen flow into the brain. According to Medina, an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness.

In addition to overall health benefits and inspiring youth to stay in school, the TopSail Youth Program has been directly credited with improving self-esteem, creating responsible behavior, developing problem solving skills, fostering ocean literacy, and inspiring maritime careers and marine science fields of study.

Traditional teaching styles tend to be less effective at reaching at-risk youth populations. Student boredom is a deterrent to learning. Research confirms that students learn most effectively from active engagement with information and ideas. Students learn better when they take the initiative to apply concepts to practice, to solve real problems, to make decisions, and to reflect on the consequences.

Please explain how you will evaluate your work.

Students who participate in our program have the opportunity to join our volunteer Youth Crew to continue their skill building. Youth receive a Sail Training Logbook to track new skills and advance through three levels of maritime competencies. This Logbook is designed to inform, guide, and document their progress. This critical self-evaluation tool allows students to set goals, monitor their own progress, receive feedback, and achieve certification by the ship’s captain. This certification process is recognized by the United States Coast Guard and counts as necessary coursework and required sea time. For the public sailing events, we will ask participants to complete a short pre- and post- survey to measure the effectiveness of adventure learning for families, and track awareness of our local marine environment.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Education/training
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Network/relationship support
  • Quality improvement research