Free maritime programs in Greenport continue for students

DAVID BERSON COURTESY PHOTO | Students in David Berson’s free maritime education classes in Greenport use microscopes as part of what the boat captain calls fun and free programs for the community.

Captain David Berson has a vision for education in Greenport. The captain of the tour boat Glory, Mr. Berson, who spent years as a mariner and maritime educator, has a simple theory on education: instruction should be free and fun.

After recently wrapping up the first year of a popular summer program, in which students were taught art, writing and science with a maritime focus, Mr. Berson is now gearing up for the second year of a winter program for grades 4 and 5 at Greenport Elementary School. He runs the programs through a nonprofit he created called Glory Going Green Inc.

The idea of disguising learning under a veil of fun and providing it free to locals came about five years ago, Mr. Berson said.

In 2008, he began partnering with local libraries to offer free maritime education classes for children. On one day of the program, students packed the classroom, which inspired Mr. Berson to launch his new summer and winter classes.

The charity sponsors a free weekly class at the Little Red Schoolhouse on Front Street. Additionally students are taught aboard Glory, the only solar-powered electric boat in New York State certified by the U.S. Coast Guard. The boat serves as a floating classroom that fosters an integrated curriculum of art, writing, and science; especially in the areas of conservation and renewable energy, Mr. Berson said.

“It’s a perfect venue to teach the basics of marine biology,” he said.

The kids seem to agree.

Originally planned as a four-week program, the winter classes were so well received they ran for 26 weeks, ending on Memorial Day weekend.

“The kids didn’t want to leave,” Mr. Berson said. “We couldn’t get them out of there.”

In response to the “fabulous” turnout, Mr. Berson decided to start an eight-week summer Nature Journal program aboard Glory. Retired Greenport schoolteacher Dianne Eissler designed the course for fifth- and sixth-graders, so students from the winter program could continue to attend.

Through out the months, students have remained loyal to the program, Mr. Berson said. The sixth-graders returning to this year’s winter program will serve as mentors to the younger children joining the group for the first time.

“I wanted to create for children the idea of mentorship,” he said. “They need good role models.”

As a nonprofit, Glory Going Green is run entirely through private donations. The program has managed to stay afloat thanks to the generosity of local businesses, who have donated food and money for the classes.

Despite the financial challenges, Mr. Berson said one thing will never change.

“Everything is about being free,” he said. “People shouldn’t have to pay for their education, especially children.”

Mr. Berson said this year’s winter program begins in mid-October and is scheduled to run through Memorial Day weekend with one goal in mind: “We’re just trying to have more fun,” he said.

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