Eighteen children from a dozen countries, who are students at Millburn Middle School and Millburn High School in Essex County, ventured 55 miles south with their teachers to visit Sea Girt Lighthouse recently as part of their New Jersey history studies.
The youngsters, whose families have immigrated to America or their parents are here studying or on temporary work assignments, prepared for their tour by researching lighthouses in their native countries.
At the start of the tour, the visitors introduced themselves and identified their homelands, which included: Bulgaria, China, El Salvador, France, Republic of Georgia, Guatemala, India, Mongolia, Russia, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey.
The visit in mid-June was organized by Joan Holle, who teaches English as a second language to many of the students. “They are motivated learners and a pleasure to teach,” she said. Joining her were Dana VanGinneken, who also teaches English as a second language, and guidance counselor John Rogers.
“This is a perfect time for a change of scenery and to explore New Jersey history. The lighthouse is a perfect point of interest,” noted Ms. Holle. She well knows Sea Girt Lighthouse, having been here previously for tours and private parties, including a wedding. A resident of Spring Lake Heights, she has summered in Sea Girt since she was a youngster and continues to spend time here with family and friends who live in town.
The lively tour was a learning experience not only for the students and teachers but also the lighthouse trustees on duty as docents. And it was an opportunity for the students to practice their English. Throughout the tour, they were encouraged to talk about the lighthouses in their homelands.
Several students noted they lived near and/or had visited lighthouses at home, including:
o Nos Galata Lighthouses in Bulgaria on the Black Sea by the port of Varna.
o Lan Qi Lighthouse on China’s southeastern coast in Fujian Province.
o Ocos Range Light in Guatemala near the border with Mexico.
o Aguada Point and Goa Lighthouses on the west coast of India.
o Oido and Daejin Lighthouses on the west coast of South Korea.
o Laem Phra Chao Lighthouse on Thailand’s largest island off the west coast.
o Kiz Kulesi Lighthouse, also known as the Maiden Tower, built on a small island at the southern entrance of the Bosphorus Sea, off Istanbul, Turkey.
Each of these lighthouses is distinct from the other and has a compelling history, which the students shared. The students and docents compared and contrasted those lighthouses with Sea Girt Lighthouse in terms of tower height, lighthouse design and markings and other variables.
Reaching the Top
The visitors explored Sea Girt Lighthouse from the keeper’s office into the living quarters and on up to the top of the tower. Many students were surprised to learn that long ago lighthouses were not automated but were manually operated.
“Before our tour of the Sea Girt Lighthouse, I never knew that people actually operated the light or that anyone lived in a lighthouse,” said Bin, a high-school student from China.
Everyone’s favorite part was climbing up the spiral staircase and then the ladder to the very top of the tower into the lantern room with its spectacular view so far out to sea.
The students were also impressed by the three-foot-tall, beehive-shaped 4th order Fresnel lens on display on the second floor. ”It’s amazing how big it is and how prisms can project light so far,” commented Pawin, a high-school student from Thailand. A 4th order Fresnel lens can project a beacon 15 miles.
Many students brought cameras and took photos of one another and of the artifacts on display.
At the end of the tour, Jerry Hayward, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, presented the boys and girls with SGLCC Junior Member Cards. As each child received the card, he or she said “thank you” in English and then in their native language.
“I am constantly reminded what a historic treasure we have in our backyard when I meet the people who come here from across America and today from around the world,” said Mr. Hayward.
“As our Junior Members, these students become our ambassadors to their families and friends. It was a pleasure having them visit. They hopefully will help us spread the history of Sea Girt Lighthouse.”
The Millburn students had a full day at the shore. After their visit to Sea Girt Lighthouse, they had lunch by the Manasquan Inlet. Afterwards they and their teachers walked on the beach to discuss the ocean and the coastal environment. During a break, some played soccer. And before heading home, the students made sure to stick their feet in the water.
Once back in school, the students were asked to discuss their Sea Girt Lighthouse experience and then write a composition on what they had learned. In this way they were re-enforcing what they discovered and working on their conversational, writing and editing skills.
Teodor, from Bulgaria, thinking his essay could wind up being very long, asked his teacher: “Do we have to write about everything we learned?”
The children all agreed that they learned a great deal on their tour. ”When you go to the Sea Girt Lighthouse, you can learn about the lighthouse and also the history of the United States,” wrote Sanghee, a student from South Korea.
“We couldn't have asked for a better day,” said Ms. Holle. “Several students, upon leaving enthusiastically said, ‘This is the best field trip ever!’ ”
The docents on duty enjoyed themselves too and were gratified by the students’ enthusiasm and appreciation.
Arranging Lighthouse Tours
Group tours such as this one are conducted year-round by prior arrangement. To arrange a tour, please call the lighthouse, 732-974-0514, or send an email from the website’s Contact Us page.
Photos: Courtesy of Joan Holle