At Old Saybrook HS Rebuild First Submarine
no secret that educators in schools across the country are desperate
for ways to kindle their students’ interest with new and innovative
lessons. But few can match the extraordinary project led by Scott
Schoonmaker, the Principal at Old Saybrook High School, Connecticut.
“We will build an authentic life-size, working replica of the
Turtle, the first submarine ever used in warfare,” Schoonmaker
In 1776, General George Washington, was determined to find some
way to drive the English fleet out of New York Harbor. Washington
enlisted the help of Yale graduate David Bushnell, who came up
with the idea of building a one-man submarine. That submarine,
called the Turtle, was designed to dive under the invading
vessels and attach a bomb to the underside of the command ship.
While the attack was not entirely successful – Bushnell could
not attach the bomb — the subsequent explosion did have a major
psychological impact on the British and had a notable influence
on the outcome of the war.
But why rebuild the Turtle over 200 years later? The town
of Old Saybrook shares a special connection with Bushnell’s invention.
Located on Long Island Sound next to the Connecticut River, Old
Saybrook High School is surrounded by water on three sides. More
importantly, Bushnell once lived in the town and, in fact, his
descendants attend the school
to this day.
is why Fred Frese, the boat-maker who built the first Turtle
replica in 1977, called me with the idea,” Schoonmaker said.
“As it was also a special anniversary of the submarine’s original
creation, I naturally grabbed onto it like it was manna from heaven.”
Schoonmaker immediately seized the opportunity to build a complex
and engaging curriculum that revolved around the Turtle
replica. The students will not only deal with the construction
and testing process but they will also get a flavor of the events
and psychology of the Revolutionary War. In addition, they will
have the opportunity to confront the same math, science, and geometry
problems Bushnell struggled with 225 years earlier.
also plan to stick with a boat-making curriculum once we’re done,”
Schoonmaker said. “Next we plan to build kayaks and canoes, and
learn of their history and the reasons for their existence.”
Approximately 150 students in grades 9-12 will be involved in
the Turtle project, which will last over a period of about
six months. The on-going construction, the re-creation of the
original underwater attack, and the rest of the educational program
will be broadcast, in real time, by web-cam to students across
the country. “Along with major corporations like Coca Cola and
Toyota, one of our other sponsors is the History Channel,” Schoonmaker
don’t be surprised if you see a TV special on our project one
day very soon as well.”
The Turtle project is set to launch in about two months
and should last throughout the spring semester. “I’m looking forward
to this,” Shoonmaker said. “But, even more important, I haven’t
seen the kids get this excited about something school-related
in a long, long time.”#
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