A New Apprentice

When she was 14 years old Katherine Dench (KD) enrolled in the Compass Program, an alternative high school program run by Action Inc. of Gloucester. Through Compass KD was first introduced to Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center, now Maritime Gloucester, and to educators Dave Brown and Mary Kay. Dave and Mary Kay developed and ran the science portion of the program that focused on engaging students in hand-on STEM learning with real world applications and a whole lot of fun.

KD proved to be an ambitious and exemplary student. KD always helped to encourage and engage other students, sharing her passion and knowledge with them. After she graduated Maritime Gloucester hired her as part of their education staff and when the Ardelle arrived on site in 2011, KD, like many generations of Gloucester kids before her, was lured to the sea.

Since then KD has been very much a part of Ardelle’s family. Other than Mary Kay and I, she has sailed on the boat as much as anyone. She has always helped with the maintenance, office work and other projects.

In 2017, my son Alden and I recieved a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) to rebuild the Friendship Sloop Maria (the first boat Alden’s grandfather built). These grants are awarded to master artists to take on apprentices and teach them about traditional skills not offered in a typical academic setting. Throughout the project KD was ever present, learning and working with Alden, and constantly encouraging him.

After graduating from, and teaching at the Gloucester Biotech Academy KD has pursued a variety of experiences at sea including a trip from Indonesia to Singapore on a research vessel and spent a lot of time in small boats. She studied and passed exams for her 50-ton credential and, as soon as she passes her sail endorsement exam, she will be qualified to take Ardelle out on her own.

Last winter Mary Kay helped KD and I apply to the MCC for another Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant. We were very grateful to find out that we had been awarded the grant in January. This time KD is named as my apprentice for the Sylvina W. Beal’s rehabilitation.

Beyond giving KD an opportunity to learn from someone who is passionate about their craft and cares deeply about her, I hope that this grant will also help to provide formality and  legitimacy to this alternative form of education. Where this might take KD I do not know, but she has been excelling in alternative learning environments since she was fourteen years old.

As she always does, KD has taken things a bit further than anyone could have anticipated. She got herself some work as an educator at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum under the guidance of her old teacher Dave Brown. So true to her form, KD will again be learning and teaching at the same time.