For 24 years, the TopSail Youth Program has been changing the lives of youth in Los Angeles County through a highly interactive educational program at-sea aboard the twin brigantines, SSV Irving Johnson and SSV Exy Johnson. These 110-foot traditionally rigged tall ships were named after experiential learning pioneers who sailed around the world seven times with young crews in the ’30s and ’50s, with a short hiatus as a result of World War II. Recognizing the extraordinary value of “hands-on learning,” TopSail founder and retired science teacher Jim Gladson designed an innovative program that incorporates every aspect of operating a large sailing vessel to engage youth in a real-world classroom at sea. In addition to bringing subjects like science and math to life, the shipboard environment challenges youth to work together, improves communication skills, stimulates critical thinking, builds confidence, and provides a safe environment to address feelings of inadequacy. The experience of learning at sea is an educational adventure many young students never forget, and instills a love for lifelong learning.
Our Topsail STEM program builds on our signature TopSail Youth Program and leverages the STEM framework inherent to our program. Though many aspects of sailing a tall ship fall into science categories, we focus on the ‘M’ in STEM (Mathematics) for our day sail program. We use the navigation component of our program to enhance students’ interest in mathematics. Our navigation curriculum is designed to teach students the basics of simple navigation and how to identify the symbols and data on a nautical chart. In this process they are introduced to charts, its geometry, and many of its symbols. They use this information to determine a course. During this program, students will also focus on the aspects of mechanical advantage on board a tall ship and the skill of rigging block and tackle. It is here at sea, where students realize that mathematics can have very real and practical uses.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email us at or give us a call at 310-833-6055.
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