Floating classroom celebrates 20,000 visitors

Published 5:31 pm Thursday, September 29, 2022

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (CRK) celebrated its 20,000th visitor on the West Point Lake Floating Classroom on Thursday morning. A group of sixth-grade Callaway Middle School students helped the classroom reach the notable accomplishment.

Since 2015, the floating classroom, Miss Sally, has hosted more than 20,000 students on West Point Lake, offering unique educational opportunities outside the standard classroom.

Miss Sally’s name sake, Sally Bethea, founding executive director of CRK, was on hand to celebrate the achievement, along with Troup County School System Superintendent Dr. Brian Shumate and representatives from LaGrange and Troup County.

“We’re here today to celebrate this program here on West Point Lake, but we’re also excited that our original floating classroom on Lake Lanier is also still going strong after 20 years. In combination, we’ve served more than 75,000 students and teachers on both programs combined,” said Henry Jacobs, Middle Chattahoochee Director for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

Jacobs thanked several sponsors of the floating classroom program, highlighting Google, Yamaha, the Callaway Foundation, the Charter Foundation, the WestPoint Fund and the City of LaGrange, among others.

“It’s always nice as the one who kind of does the coordinating for this program to know that we’ve got have a strong base of support … especially since we really emphasize serving underserved Title I schools, and providing scholarship funds to make sure those kids can attend if they don’t ever otherwise have the means to join us out here,” Jacobs said. “About 12,000 of the 20,000 students served were provided full scholarships, so we really appreciate that.”

Shumate said the program offers students background knowledge and reference points for their classroom education. For many of the students, it’s their first time on a boat.

“Kids can read passages about things, but they have never seen it or done it. They don’t have any reference point like most of us do,” Shumate said. “They can memorize stuff, but they don’t really learn it. This provides background knowledge of all kinds of things: biology, water cycle, life cycle, history and other things taught out here.”

The floating classroom not only provides reference points for learning but also life skills of not being afraid of the water. He said in his previous educational experiences, many of his students were afraid of the water.

“I didn’t understand [the floating classroom] until I got on it. It’s really a cool asset and this program is great. We love it,” Shumate said. “I want all of our sixth graders coming in. Hopefully, we make lifelong river rats out of them, and they learn how to enjoy the lake, be around it and not be afraid.”

After the milestone celebration, 60 Callaway Middle students embarked on their hour-long tour of West Point Lake aboard Miss Sally. The students were guided through lessons on the history and biology of the lake, as well as hands-on experiments testing the water’s pH levels and light visibility.

The students also got a rare treat, a chance for an up-close view of a bald eagle in the wild.