OAKLAND -- Most Wednesdays will find a group of students from Oakland's Street Academy High School in an unlikely location, off-campus on the Embarcadero, far from their normal environment.
These students are taking part in the Afterguard Sailing Academy, learning and practicing skills far beyond lessons in sailing, math and physics, solving challenges hard to recreate in a classroom.
Afterguard, a nonprofit education program, was started in 2006 by Mary SwiftSwan and her husband Steve Swan in collaboration with Street Academy math and science teacher Jeremy Cavagnolo and retired Oakland policeman Marvin Jackson, who serves as volunteer and mentor. The program, which provides sailing as a math and science support, along with physical education units, is offered as a three-trimester elective. As students learn to sail, they become American Sailing Association-certified.
Adult sailing classes help fund the program.
"Our mission has always been to work with adults as a primary fund source and then to take some of those funds and turn around and work with the kids," SwiftSwan said. "We want to get kids out of their three-block neighborhood and expose them to more opportunities and see what's out there."
With rising costs and no school district support, Afterguard is looking to raise funds and will run a fundraiser on Feb. 15. At this point, they're in the "donation-accumulation" stage and are hoping the public will contribute, making the benefits of the sailing academy available to even more students.
The scope of how students benefit from Afterguard goes far beyond learning to sail and begins with the simple but critical premise of offering something that makes students want to stay in school.
"The students know it's a privilege to be involved in the sailing class, so they work hard to stay in the class," Cavagnolo said. "It's motivating, so they keep up with their academic work to be off campus."
Using language and skills from math and physics classes, sailing becomes a laboratory to learn navigation, how a sail works and water safety, transporting theories into experiences as sailors.
"This makes the material relevant to real-world applications and helps students understand why we study these theories," Cavagnolo said.
In order to take advanced sailing classes, students must pass ASA tests as they move beyond the beginner level and learn to sail in bigger boats to different parts of San Francisco Bay. Mastering this college-level curriculum is a further challenge, one that allows them to set their sites beyond high school. For many students, the life skills they develop have far-reaching effects.
"Being a skipper of a boat teaches you how to lead; being crew teaches you how to work with others," SwiftSwan said.
"Students learn to take constructive criticism and how to persevere through challenges," Cavagnolo added. "We put them in situations that require them to use those skills."
Captain Mary, as she's called, neatly summed up the Afterguard philosophy, one that's working to get more students through school.
"The cake is about making core classes real; encouraging students to stay in school is the center of the cake we're putting together," she said. "Then the icing is the sailing itself."
For information on Afterguard Sailing Academy visit www.afterguard.net or call 510-535-1954.
Afterguard is a 501(c)3 group and accepts donations for the fundraiser through www.biddingforgood.com and through the Afterguard website.
Hidden Treasure Gala is at 7 p.m. Feb. 15, California Ballroom, Oakland. Tickets are $100 for the black tie affair and go directly to benefit the foundation. For information, contact Aurice Guyton at 510-731-4425. For tickets visit www.afterguardgala.eventbrite.com.