For sixth-grade students from the Robert Treat Academy in Newark, a day on the Shark River was more than just fun in the sun.
As the classmates assisted one another in mounting and launching kayaks from a floating dock near Belmar's L Street beach, one holding the boat firmly against the bulkhead while the other steadied themselves atop the craft, then handing them their paddle and seeing their friends hit the water, the lesson becomes clear.
They're learning about themselves.
For the sixth year, students from the Newark-based charter school came to the Shark River basin through the City Sailors program and the Friends of Belmar Harbor. The sailing lessons have since been incorporated into Academy curriculum.
For Paul Perotta, a physical education teacher at the charter school for the last 11 years, it couldn't be more clear. Each year, as they take to the waters of Belmar Harbor he sees his students face obstacles and learn to overcome them.
"They have to deal with certain things they aren't completely used to," he said, relating the story of a female student who, the previous day, had tipped over in her kayak. Rather than panic or call for help, the young girl figured out how to right herself and continue on.
"It was an accomplishment," Perotta said.
The teacher sees the results. Real life lessons in cooperation, team work and leadership are taught on the calm, blue waters of the Shark River.
For many of the sixth-graders, a day of sailing and paddling is not a luxury to which they are accustomed.
"I don't know how many of them get out of the city that often," Perotta said. "Some of them don't get that opportunity."
Those who didn't kayak instead piled into small schooners piloted by volunteers from the Friends of Belmar Harbor. Team work would be on display again as students assisted their captain in working the sails and piloting the boat.
Lending their time and ensuring fun and safety for the students were FOBH members led by Chris Childers, who has spent the last four years helping Robert Treat Academy students take to the water.
"We have a lot of fun," Childers said from behind the console of a FOBH power boat.
Childers explained that the students weren't the only ones who benefited from the City Sailors Program; his team of experienced sailors also gains new insight from their time with the Newark students.
"They really learn to look at what they do in a different light," he said.
And as for the students— it seemed likely that their excitement could be heard across the river.
"My favorite part is that I get to learn a lot about the boats," said 11-year-old Robert Treat student Isaiah, who explained that he may be interested in a career on the water when he grows up.
Others were fascinated by some of the wildlife.
"My favorite part is actually seeing all of these creatures in this habitat," Veronica, another 11-year-old student, said, noting that she had already seen eels, crabs and jellyfish during her visit to the Shark River.
Robert Treat Academy students will continue their Shark River adventure on Wednesday and Thursday.