Chapman Winners Go Above & Beyond

Yvonne Hill

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During the 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting, United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, recognized three outstanding volunteer educators—Ann Peltier, Graham Hunter and Chris Leavitt—with the 2020 Charles F. Chapman Award for Excellence in Teaching. These Chapman Winners go above and beyond to educate their students and make boating better.

This year’s winners exemplify the creativity, dedication, and passion for education shown by Charles F. Chapman, the award’s namesake. One of our founding fathers, Chapman was a tireless educator, author and editor. Author of the boating bible, “Piloting: Seamanship and Small Boat Handling,” Chapman steered the editorial ship at Motor Boating magazine for many years.

Ann Peltier

Ann Peltier

Ann Peltier of Oyster Bay Sail & Power Squadron/3 has been a member since 1999 and has 21 merit marks.

A teacher’s teacher, Ann enjoys making sure instructors have all the skills they need to succeed. She regularly presents Instructor Development and ID recertification seminars. Because of the pandemic, Ann started teaching the seminars online, and they routinely have a waiting list.

Jerry Cappa writes that Ann makes students feel like they’re getting one-on-one instruction. “She taught us how to approach problems with an open mind and not to draw conclusions before we needed to. When there was a difficult concept to get across, Ann made us feel like we knew it all along. … She encouraged us to think and to become better instructors in our own right.”

At the squadron level, Ann teaches America’s Boating Course and various seminars. Whenever she teaches, she pinpoints exactly how and what her students need to learn and understand the material.

“A schoolteacher by training, Ann knows how to involve each student in the learning experience with a keen ability to draw individuals, both neophytes and advanced, into common discussions that enhance learning for everyone in the class,” writes Dennis Puccio.

Commander Ronald Ferina writes that Ann is sensitive to student feedback and uses both vocal and visual cues to gauge her students understanding. “I’ve seen Ann repeat difficult concepts several different ways to meet the individual needs of a student.”

Theresa Moschetta and Diane Beecher took Ann’s basic boating class and were struck by her welcoming personality. “Ann’s sense of humor hits you right out of the box when she welcomes new students to an ABC class. We were novice sailors with a new sailboat and eager to learn basic boating knowledge. No question was insignificant. … Ann’s thoughtful answers were usually accompanied by a funny personal story … to demystify the topic and make it real.”

Another student, Peter Ackerman, appreciates Ann’s ability to create a nurturing classroom experience. “She promotes sharing in the class. Not only does Ann give us real life examples, she asks what our experiences have been or if we’ve ever had a similar situation.” Peter writes that this personalizes the class, allowing students to learn from Ann and each other.

Ann’s love of boating and desire to share her knowledge makes students want to learn.

“I know going forward,” Peter writes, “that if Ann Peltier is teaching a class, I will sign up for it.”

What do you find most rewarding about teaching? 
Ann: The most rewarding aspect to me is bringing lifesaving information to new and experienced boaters by using materials developed and published by United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club. When students become engaged in our course material, they can almost immediately “see” how our educational materials not only enhance their boating knowledge but also help them develop confidence in their boating skills.

What’s your most memorable teaching moment?
A few years back, a member approached me to teach an after-school program to fifth and sixth graders in our community. Most of the students came from boating families, and some even had their own canoes or rowboats. Unfortunately, since they were between 10 and 11, none had taken an official boating course.

The PTA-supported parent group thought a four-week course on boating safety would be beneficial, and I agreed. With the approval of the National Educational Officer at the time, I developed a four-week program that encompassed the following topics: life jackets, man overboard, knot tying and “Do you know where you are?” Most of the 30 students eventually took safe boating courses from United States Power Squadrons or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and received safe boating certificates.

What advice do you have for new instructors?
Whether your classroom is face to face or virtual, everyone must feel comfortable and at ease. Learn the names of your students and refer to them by name—often. Always direct your questions and comments to your students and encourage them to engage with each other.

Graham Hunter

Graham Hunter

Graham Hunter of Bellingham Sail & Power Squadron/16 has been a member since 1989 and has 16 merit marks.

Graham goes out of his way to spread his knowledge of boating and boating safety. In addition to teaching America’s Boating Course and developing an on-the-water component, he teaches Seamanship, Engine Maintenance, Boat Handling, Cruise Planning, and more.

A champion of on-the-water training, Graham implemented on-the-water sessions for the Boat Handling class, taking care of logistics and recruitment. “He also visits the ABC classes to provide students with information about the OTW experience and matches their interests and availability with a squadron skipper,” James Baird writes.

Graham produced a video for the squadron that explains the squadron’s on-the-water program in a talk show format.

The former squadron educational officer and visionary educational leader has worked tirelessly to create, implement, and teach his squadron’s educational program for members and the public. He has been instrumental in the annual SeaSkills Festival at a local marina and the annual Day of Learning at a local yacht club, inspiring other instructors with his commitment and dedication.

“I have learned a lot from attending Graham’s classes, watching him in action and working alongside him during the many events that he is responsible for in our district,” fellow member and American Sailing Association instructor Catherine Franklin writes.

From planning and teaching instructors to packing up at the end of the day, Graham organizes the squadron’s annual flare demonstration. The successful community service event teaches both squadron and community members how to safely deploy flares in a structured, non-emergency setting.

According to Mary Rose Diefenderfer, “every person who takes part in the demonstrations gets to practice with every type of flare available until they feel proficient.”

Creative and witty, Graham often teaches using puns, costumes, and props. He also writes and performs skits to illustrate confusing topics. In his Acronym Man skit, the eponymous superhero demystifies USPS and boating acronyms.

During one district conference, Graham illustrated how an internal combustion engine works using squadron members as parts. “I was one of the pistons,” writes Leslie Guelker-Cone, adding that Graham “proceeded to build the engine in front of the audience, one piece at a time, showing how each piece moved,” giving both participants and audience an unforgettable lesson in how engines work.

Graham uses innovative training aids, several of his own design, to demonstrate challenging concepts, such as anchoring, using mooring lines, docking, right of way, and more. One night Graham brought a shopping cart to class to illustrate the different ways it could move depending on how it was pushed.

“It was an ‘aha’ moment for me,” Leslie Guelker-Cone writes, “as I transferred that idea to maneuvering my twin-engine boat.”

What do you find most rewarding about teaching? 
My reward is the camaraderie that develops in the classroom and when class members complete a course and are happy about their achievement.

What’s your most memorable teaching moment?
I was running an on-the-water session with a woman who expressed a high degree of stress about being at the helm. Before we began, I asked just how much anxiety she was feeling. “Oh, at least nine out of ten,” she replied. We spent several hours getting her familiar with the boat’s handling characteristics. Then we finished with her making approaches to the dock, slowly and calmly. She ultimately docked the boat with no coaching. What was her level of stress then? “Wow, no more than three!” We were both happy.

What advice do you have for new instructors?
People who sign up for our classes want to be there, but they may be slightly uncomfortable. To get them relaxed and ready to learn, I learn all their first names and use them often. Soon, class members get to know each other, begin to unwind, start sharing experiences and asking questions. Those questions tell you where you need further explanation and give you the chance to bounce the questions back to the class for open discussion.

Chris Leavitt

Chris Leavitt

Chris Leavitt of Houston Sail & Power Squadron/21 has been a member since 2010 and has 10 merit marks.
As leader of the squadron’s public boating program, Chris teaches America’s Boating Course, where his engaging personality has brought many new members into the squadron family.

“I met Chris over a year ago when my husband and I took a boating course,” writes Lisa Guenthert. “Besides being an upbeat and funny guy, Chris is a knowledgeable sailor and an excellent teacher. He has a way of pulling people in and keeping them engaged.”

Past District Commander Deborah Rothermel notes that Chris’ infectious enthusiasm has also been a boon to the district: “He has a way of teaching that is so joyful and intelligent, and he has done more for our district than most others combined.”

Chris also teaches Cruise Planning and Sail as well as several Boat Handling seminars and other squadron seminars.

Chris believes in the power of boating safety education. After hearing about a rise in fatalities among paddle boaters four years ago, Chris and his wife, Cathy, purchased six kayaks and a trailer, organized squadron members to become American Canoe Association instructors, set up external and internal instructor training, assembled training materials, and marketed the course. Last year, the program ran at about 60% capacity.

To support the squadron’s large Sea Scout community during the pandemic, Chris started “Conversations with Chris” to educate Sea Scouts and squadron members on a variety of topics. “He first talked about maritime history, early sailing ships, cooking on boats, the environment, and then hooked us all into celestial navigation,” writes Past Commander Susie Becvar.

Kristi Pierce appreciates Chris’ mentorship to the squadron’s youth and to countless Sea Scouts. “A natural teacher, he never misses an opportunity to capitalize on an important ‘teachable moment.’”

Wolf Guenthert admires Chris’ ability to make complicated topics understandable and boring topics fun. “He has a gift of explaining the most complex topics, like using a sextant for the first time, in a way that everybody in the class can understand. And, on the other side, he can teach about the most boring topics and make them come alive with his anecdotes collected over a lifetime of service and experience.”

Steve Sheward noted that Chris helps out wherever he’s needed, whether it’s leading the kitchen crew during a Sea Scout event or volunteering as first mate on Sheward’s 10-day British Virgin Islands cruise. “He taught me a lot about seamanship and leadership on that trip and has been kind enough to heap praise on me as a good sailor ever since.”
District 21 honored Chris with the Joseph T. Hanley Education Award, which goes to those who exemplify the conduct of a true teacher at heart.

What do you find most rewarding about teaching? 
When I see that a student doesn’t quite get it, can’t see how to arrive at the answer or is lost, I slow the flow of the class, back up and restate things, or use some other technique until comprehension occurs. Wow! That’s the most rewarding moment.

What’s your most memorable teaching moment?
As a marine lieutenant, I spent a day teaching infantry how to breach a minefield. I had to deliver a lecture on how to lay a hasty mine with booby traps and then get the marines to build a dummy minefield and breach it, while making sure everyone did so safely. They were a bit concerned about using the live simulated booby trap. When I showed them how to work with the simulated booby traps, the one I was arming went off in my hands with a bang, a flash of light and some smoke. I was as surprised as anyone, but the only real injury was to my pride.

“See, not a problem,” I said and collapsed onto the ground, stunning the marines. Then I stood up and said, “See, not dangerous at all.” They relaxed and laughed at me or with me—no matter; they became comfortable using the equipment, learned a lesson and had a good exercise.

I was the one who had the epiphany: When you teach, it isn’t about you—ever. Each lesson is about something the student wants or needs to learn. Ego has no place in a lesson plan. I could have handled the situation in many ways, but making it funny worked, and that was what counted.

What advice do you have for new instructors?
Teach every chance you get. After each class, think about how you went about explaining your material. Were my stories strongly related to the point I was trying to make? Did I tell them well or leave stuff out? Some jobs require 10,000 hours of practice to become good at. Teaching may be one of them.

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