Growing up along the water in Beaufort and Hilton Head, Prentice Brower considers himself lucky to have had sailing in his life from a young age. Now, as the executive director of the Lowcountry Maritime Society, Brower has taken that appreciation of the sea and used it to teach local students not only how to enjoy boating, but also develop the educational skills they'll need to be successful.
Starting in 2014 with Brower and a few friends, the program has expanded quickly as more and more schools adopt this new approach to learning. Currently offered in six schools throughout the Lowcountry — Ashley Hall, James Simmons Elementary, Jane Edwards Elementary, Porter-Gaud, Sanders Clyde Elementary-Middle School, and Simmons Pinckney Middle School — the Lowcountry Maritime Society is a nonprofit organization that offers students the chance to get a hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education by practicing the ins and outs of wooden boat-building, while also connecting with the maritime culture that is a part of growing up on the coast.
"I knew what I wanted to do which is just promote everything that's traditional maritime and Lowcountry, like that romantic stuff that you see, oysters, fishing, shrimping fleets, and the marshes and the mud and the science behind them — all the stuff that is really unique to our region," says Brower.
Beginning with teams of three to five students per boat, kids are initially tasked with building a toolbox that they will use throughout the program. Students then get comfortable using the tools they'll need to construct their ship before being introduced to the step-by-step plans they'll follow for the rest of the semester.
According to Brower, most students are a bit skeptical when first introduced to the program and the idea that they will actually be constructing a working boat from the ground up. But along the way, they are given the opportunity to take the math, science, and engineering that they learn in the classroom and apply those lessons to create something on their own. Along the way, students are taught problem-solving skills, adapting to any issues that may arise and leave them with a sinking ship. It's an exciting risk, but the ultimate reward is the knowledge that they've successfully accomplished something that they didn't think would be possible when they started.
"It's something that you made. It's a significant part of your school year. If you're a middle-schooler, that's really big. It's something that you carry with you," says Brower. "I always get excited about the identity and cultural side of it. It's teaching students, 'Hey, this is where you're from. You're from the Lowcountry. You live on the water. You know it's a very special place to grow up and a special place to be a part of.' Culturally, it's a really rich place to be from, and building that pride as you're teaching is another thing besides the hands-on, tangible side of everything."