Calgary sailors connect with students from namesake city

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Navy News / November 19, 2021

While conducting a counter-terrorism mission in the Arabian Sea on their last deployment, sailors onboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary paused from their work or got out of their racks mid-sleep to answer questions from grade school students back in Canada.

“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,” said Sailor Second Class (S2) Audrina N’Guessan, a boatswain by trade and one of the roughly 20 sailors in Calgary that participated in the innovative Ship to Shore program this year.

“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 a way for the children to learn about what their Navy does,” she said.

The program started in the 2019-2020 school year as a collaboration between the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Calgary Board of Education and other stakeholders, with the intention of giving children a unique opportunity to learn about what their Navy does while also fostering good relations between HMCS Calgary and its namesake city. Also participating in the program was Naval Reserve Division HMCS Tecumseh, based out of the city of Calgary. A success in its first year, the program continued in 2020-2021 and satellite internet on ship permitted them to continue while deployed.

Participating Calgary schools included Buffalo Rubbing Stone School, Fish Creek School, Douglasdale School and University School. Sailors 2nd Class N’Guessan and Pilon did regular video-teleconferencing calls with Ms. Sarah Kessler’s 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, so we made sure to include a mini Oscar in the final model,” said S2 N’Guessan.

Children asked the sailors about anything from astral navigation, to engineering, to simple questions about ships like what a bollard is (it’s a short, thick post on a ship’s deck used to secure ropes). The sailors also sent the children imagery, helped them with special projects and even tutored them in subjects like math.

Ship to Shore is designed around inquiry-based learning, an approach to education that is driven by the natural inquisitiveness of students rather than a pre-determined curriculum.

Their questions aren’t always easy to answer.

“Each class you’d always have one student who’d ask a very specific question about the ship that an average sailor might not know, only someone specific to that trade (would know). So, we would have to pool resources on board to get them answers,” said S2 Patrick Pilon, a marine technician.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

The success of the program may mean the RCN will expand the program onboard other ships. For now, HMCS Calgary will be continuing the program in the 2021-2022 semester.

Although the ship is now back in its home port of Esquimalt, B.C., HMCS Calgary’s 2021 deployment involved sailing through the Indo-Pacific and working with partner navies on Operation (Op) Projection and Exercise Talisman Sabre. In the spring the ship was in the Arabian Sea working with the 34-nation Combined Maritime Forces on Op Artemis. On this operation, the ship performed maritime interdictions, essentially busting smugglers who were transporting narcotics used to fund regional crime and terror. The ship was incredibly successful and busy as it set the record for the greatest number of busts in the history of the operation.