Bay cruise cheers up homeless children Aboard the Mildred Belle, a refuge from troubles.


The boy on the deck of the Mildred Belle wouldn't take off his black sweat shirt even though the setting sun was still hot yesterday evening .

He says he likes the tough, rebellious look of black.

On this boy, the sweat shirt and a pair of black shorts that hang loosely on his skinny legs seem sadly appropriate. He is a resident of a Baltimore shelter for homeless children who seems to have lost the innocence of childhood.

For four hours, he took a vacation from his problems as part of a federally funded learning project of the State Department of Education and the Lady Maryland Foundation & Maritime Institute, a non-profit organization at 820 S. Caroline St.

He walks on the bow of the 56-foot boat, staring into Chesapeake Bay. As the waves splash up at him, he seems to have forgotten momentarily the life that has left him in custody of the government, in a shelter with dozens of other homeless children.

He may have been a victim of abuse or neglect before he came to the shelter, but like the other 26 kids aboard the Mildred Belle, he doesn't talk about his past.

Now the boy fills a glass vial with water from the bay so that he can measure how much oxygen is in the water.

He's been known to stare impatiently past people who talk to him. Other kids have to remind him to pay attention to teachers, to stick with the group instead of wandering off on his own.

But as he dips the vial into the bay, he is a picture of concentration. He holds the vial gently, slowly filling it to the top line. He doesn't fill it perfectly to the line the first time, so he patiently repeats the task until he gets it right.

For a child who hasn't done a lot of succeeding, who hasn't thought of learning as fun, the evening is an inspiring change.

Before he returns to the shelter, he and the other homeless children aboard the boat will learn how to tie sailor's knots, how to read wind gauge instruments, how to steer a sailing vessel and how to navigate a sea course.

They learn each new skill by performing a task. Each lesson on the boat ishands-on, a teaching technique that can interest children who are otherwise unmotivated to learn.

Volunteers from the foundation directed the children in various tasks, including a live radio broadcast of their own weather report.

In a cabin below, the children took turns reading weather measurements into a microphone. Some had trouble reading words like "barometric pressure," but even the least skilled readers proudly took their turns at the mike.

One boy, wearing a T-shirt and shorts with basketball player Michael Jordan's name, spoke like a deejay when he delivered his broadcast. The other children laughed as he read and joked with him that he was "just trying to be slick."

A girl read her broadcast confidently, loudly slipping her own name into the report. She, too, seemed happy to be on board, forgetting the past 12 days that she has spent away from her father and five siblings.

"I keep a smile on my face all the time," she said. "I just try not to think about all the problems with my family and stuff. I just think about the positive. Tonight, I'm just looking out at the waves and being with my best friend from the shelter. I'm having a good time, and I haven't had that in a while."

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