By Ben Terris
Rich Wilson may have been the only person on his boat as he sailed around the world, but in a sense, he brought an entire school along with him.
Wilson, 58, spent 121 days, 41 minutes, and 19 seconds circumnavigating the planet in the Vendee Globe Yacht race. As he did so, members of the Jackson School, a Catholic elementary school in Newton, followed his every move as part of the school’s computer studies program. Integrating Google earth, email and webcam programs, and digital art applications, the school used Wilson’s journey as a means to teach computer skills, math, global awareness, and life lessons.
With Wilson at sea, the class would spend their time calculating his speed, determining best possible routes, and sending emails to the wayward seafarer. Lorraine Leo, the school’s technology integration specialist, said she felt the course was important for many reasons.
“First of all it teaches the kids basic computer skills which are very necessary,” she said. “But also following Rich gives the kids something to strive for when creating their own goals.”
Both the technological aspect of the class, as well as the life lessons seemed to resonate with the class.
“I feel that technology must have been really helpful for Rich,” said Sophia Vitello who is in fifth grade. “Without technology he would have been alone for 121 days. All he would be able to see would be the ocean and himself. This way he could communicate with people.”
For Alfred Sweeney, a sixth grade student, the best part of the technology was being able to witness everything for himself.
“We couldn’t be there when he finished the race because it was in France,” Sweeney said. “But we could watch the whole thing on podcast. It used to be, before radios or anything, that you would have to wait weeks to find out about things, and by then it wasn’t that exciting. We got to actually see the expressions on everyone’s face when he finished the race.”
For others, the Wilson’s journey was a lesson in setting goals.
“This whole experience has taught me a lot about perseverance,” said Taylor Mercuri who is in fifth grade. “He had so many difficulties out there like being the oldest person and having asthma, but he still did it. If he could sail around the world, it taught me that anyone can do anything.”
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