HMCS Calgary connected with students in namesake city with Ship to Shore program

Carol Stapleton’s Grade 5 class at Fish Creek School in Calgary pose for a photo after receiving hats from HMCS Calgary’s Petty Officer Second Class Joseph Chisling, who did regular videoconferencing calls with the class while deployed in 2021.  Image supplied

Carol Stapleton’s Grade 5 class at Fish Creek School in Calgary pose for a photo after receiving hats from HMCS Calgary’s Petty Officer Second Class Joseph Chisling, who did regular video conferencing calls with the class while deployed in 2021. Image supplied.


Capt Jeff Klassen
HMCS Calgary

In the middle of the night during their deployment, in the midst of a counter-terrorism mission in the Arabian Sea, sailors on board HMCS Calgary took a pause from their work, or got out of their racks mid sleep, to video conference grade school classrooms back in Canada.

The video chats were part of the Ship to Shore program, established to connect the warship with school children in their namesake city.

“Essentially, we got up in the middle of the night while deployed to do video conferencing calls with students in Grades four to six from four different public schools around the City of Calgary,” explained Sailor Second Class (S2) Audrina N’Guessan. “We also talked to them by email and they sent us questions and we answered them on the call. We sent them imagery and videos of the ship; it was just a way for the children to learn about what their navy does.”

S2 N’Guessan, 26, a boatswain by trade, was one of 20 sailors that participated this year.

The program started in the 2019-2020 school year as a collaboration between the Royal Canadian Navy, the Calgary Board of Education, and other stakeholders, with the intention of giving children a unique opportunity to learn about what their navy does.

A success in its first year, the program continued into 2020-2021, and satellite internet on ship permitted them to continue while on deployment.

“Trying to find the perfect time to do the phone calls was the biggest challenge,” said S2 Patrick Pilon, a Marine Technician who participated in the program. “We were very busy and everyone had a different schedule and of course we are limited by the children’s school hours. When you’re deployed it’s not a 9-5 job, so calls could be done even if we had intense operations that day.”

Children’s questions ranged from astro navigation, to engineering, to simple questions such as what is a bollard? Participating sailors passed that knowledge back to them via video conferencing calls or email, which, because of the time difference, frequently took place in the middle of the night. The ship also sent children imagery, helped them with special projects, and even tutored them in subjects such as math.

The program is designed around inquiry-based learning, an approach to education driven by the natural inquisitiveness of the learner rather than a pre-determined curriculum.

“Each class you’d always have that one student who’d ask a very specific question about the ship that an average sailor might not know. Something specific to a trade and so we would have to pool resources on board to get them answers,” said S2 Pilon. “They were very intrigued about what was done on ship. We’d go in assuming a set of questions would be asked but their curiosity would take them down a road and they’d ask us something really random.”

Participating Calgary schools were Buffalo Rubbing Stone School, Fish Creek School, Douglasdale School, and University School. S2s N’Guessan and Pilon did regular video conferencing calls with Sarah Kessler’ Grade 4 class at Douglasdale School. Their class made a huge model of the ship using cardboard, art, and modelling supplies.

“I don’t know what it was with our class but they got really excited about our sailor overboard dummy named Oscar. They just thought he was really cool and so they made sure to include a mini Oscar in the final model,” said S2 N’Guessan.

Also participating in the program was Naval Reserve Division HMCS Tecumseh, based out of the City of Calgary. They had sailors assigned to the schools and supported navy resources and in-class visits.

The success of the program could branch out to other ships. For now, Calgary will continue the program in the 2021-2022 semester.

“It is just so amazing being able to talk to them and see that they have interest in us telling and showing them about what we do,” said S2 N’Guessan. “To see their excitement makes me even more proud to be in the Royal Canadian Navy.”

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