A man stuck on a cruise ship in the Caribbean Sea has made a surprise appearance for an Auckland school class, as teachers discover what they can do with technology.
Kōwhai Intermediate School teacher James Graham read a report in the Herald about the crew of the luxury Seabourn Quest liner being stuck on the ship with no passengers because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
He set his class a task of writing short stories or poems about life on the ship from the point of view of an American singer quoted in the Herald report, Ryan Driscoll.
Then he tracked down Driscoll on Instagram and arranged for him to be a surprise guest on his Year 8 class Zoom meeting yesterday.
"It's a pretty amazing technology that we can have 42 kids and teachers live talking to a guy on a boat off the coast of Barbados," he said.
He said the story was ideal to engage kids' interest.
"To be stuck in that position of being on a luxury cruise liner for months - what would you do?" he asked them. "It's something that you always dream about as a kid."
It turned out that Driscoll's life had changed since the original news report, which said the crew were free to use the pool and other facilities on what claims to be the "world's finest ultra-luxury resort at sea".
"They are actually confined to their rooms on the ship. He showed us he has a little balcony and a tiny little room. That's where he lives," Graham said.
"They are allowed out for 30 minutes a day to get all their food for the day, and have to go straight back into their cabins.
"He has a little workout routine that he does, and he spends most of his time emailing and phoning the US Foreign Service."
Driscoll needs the Foreign Service's help to get him home to his young family in Las Vegas. But the issue is complicated because crew members come from about 40 different countries.
"It's going to be very difficult for a lot of the crew members, especially from countries like the Philippines, who rely on the cruise industry to support their families," Driscoll told the Auckland class.
The students asked him questions about how to get a job on a cruise ship, and about whether cruising had a future after the Covid-19 pandemic in which several cruise ships proved to be incubators for the virus.
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"He said it will be very difficult," Graham said. "He talked about how his cruise line, being the most elite one in the world, has a pretty good setup."
Graham sent all his students' stories and poems to Driscoll before the Zoom meeting and said Driscoll loved the writing.
"He said it took him back to when he could walk around the ship."
Driscoll has agreed to keep in touch with the class.
"We are going to be checking in with him weekly and tracking his progress home," Graham said.
"There's a lot of learning in it for the kids - not only the world geography, but the intricacies of borders and travelling between countries when a pandemic happens, you can't just get on a flight and fly home."
Graham has also organised Zoom meetings for his class with Tūhoe leader Tame Iti, All Black Angus Ta'avao and with Fraser Lau, a former rugby mate of Graham's who now teaches Yuan Gong meditation techniques.
He has also lined up All Black halfback T J Perenara to talk about leadership and learning te reo Māori.
"One thing it's shown me is that people are quite accessible and are willing to help. There's a lot of kindness in the world," Graham said.
It has also been a way of keeping the students engaged in learning, although Graham believes it is still only a second-best after actual face-to-face teaching.
"All of us are seeking some sort of connectivity and some sort of community to be part of. A class is a community, they are a place where the majority of kids feel that they fit in," he said.
"When the lockdown happened, our school made sure that all of our children were connected and had devices. Those that didn't, we lent school devices to them.
"We kept talking to them through the holidays. It was really important that we kept in touch and it helped, so we didn't have to get them back again after the holidays. We didn't set a lot of work, but we had regular Zoom meetings where we had a majority of the kids throughout."