James Piper Bond is president and CEO of Living Classrooms Foundation, a Baltimore- Washington, DC-based nonprofit that disrupts the cycle of poverty and makes our community safer, stronger, and healthier by meeting individuals where they are and giving them skills for life.
Founded in Baltimore in 1985, Living Classrooms inspires children, youth, and adults to achieve their potential through hands-on education, workforce development, health and wellness, and violence prevention programming, using hands-on, real-world application of skills and knowledge – or what is referred to as “learning by doing.” The Foundation utilizes its environmental centers, athletic fields, community centers, and historic ships as "living classrooms."
The Bond and Piper families have been involved on the waterfront for centuries in Fells Point and the Eastern and Western shores of the Chesapeake. I’ve often wondered what Fells Point was like in the mid-1700s when Ann Bond, who married Edward Fell, was the matriarch of this thriving neighborhood. Growing up on the water brings connection for both work and play. I feel very fortunate to work with Living Classrooms, utilizing the Chesapeake Bay and Patapsco and Potomac Rivers to provide environmental education programs that help address educational gaps and provide hands-on enrichment opportunities for youth, especially children living in the city who may not have had such experiences.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are crabbing with my family, trying to net the big jimmies. We were raised on fish, crabs, and oysters. I’ve recently been enjoying the half Maryland crab and half cream of crab soup at a popular Fells Point restaurant.
Living Classrooms is all about broadening young people’s horizons, especially those living in our inner cities. We work with hundreds of youth every day from schools throughout the region, at our community centers, nature centers, and aboard our historic ships. Learning comes alive aboard Lady Maryland, skipjack Sigsbee, and Chesapeake Bay buyboat Mildred Belle. The Patapsco, Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay provide an incredible opportunity to use our natural assets as a vehicle for learning math, science, history, and economics. Children of all ages are learning environmental science and about the rich maritime history of the Chesapeake Bay region, while also being exposed to real-world environmental issues and potential career paths that exist today. When learning becomes fun, adventuresome, and relevant we find the experiences can really reinforce the lessons being learned in the classroom, ultimately helping students be successful in school. It also helps students be more aware and ultimately better stewards of the environment – something they can take home and share with their families. It can even spark a lifelong love of science or of the Bay.
The smiles on the faces of children when they are at the helm of our historic vessels, Lady Maryland, Sigsbee, or Mildred Belle are absolutely priceless. On a ship everyone needs to work together as a team, whether it’s hauling up the sails or pulling in the trawl net to see the crabs and oysters they’ve caught to study. Not only is navigating the course a wonderful way to learn math firsthand, the experience onboard our vessels is something that students remember for the rest of their lives.
We currently serve 25,000 children, youth, and adults annually at our 30 “living classrooms” spread across the Baltimore and Washington, DC region. Over the years, we’ve impacted half a million youth with our environmental education programs and thousands of young adults through our workforce development programs. Sites like our Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center, Historic Ships in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and Kingman and Heritage Islands in the middle of DC, also attract thousands of families and visitors each year.
It’s tremendously gratifying to reconnect with former students and see them being successful in high school, college, and in their careers. Students from our after-school programs go on to be youth workers and then interns, and even staff in some cases. We’ve hired many graduates of our job training programs who have gone on to use their experience to help others follow a similar path. We’ve had professionals come back and tell us that they sought out a career in environmental science because of their experience sailing on our boats or visiting our environmental campuses.
Recently, we were reunited with a man named Donald Lawson who was a young student with Living Classrooms dating back to 1990, when he was only nine years old and had his first experience onboard Lady Maryland. He spent a few subsequent years enrolled in Living Classrooms’ summer programs and as an adult has spent his career teaching sailing and racing high performance boats throughout the world. He attributes his lifetime obsession with the sea and current career to his first experience as a child onboard Lady Maryland. He recently began a campaign to become the first African American to complete a non-stop solo sail around the world. Stories like this inspire us to keep pushing forward to reach more people.
My family and I enjoy visiting the places close to where we live and work. I love to unwind during long bike rides through Baltimore City on my way to Fort McHenry. It’s really wonderful to be able to ride by so many of the great historic parks and attractions that are right here in our backyard. I ride to South Baltimore to visit our Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center – the country’s first urban wildlife refuge – to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and take in the extraordinary view of the downtown skyline. Then I ride along the Inner Harbor and catch a glimpse of our historic ships – USS Constellation, cutter Taney, lightship Chesapeake, and submarine Torsk – then I’ll ride by the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse at Pier 5 and along the promenade to Fells Point where our Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park resides as a historic landmark honoring the first African American-owned shipyard in the U.S. Next, I’ll continue east through Patterson Park, one of the country’s best urban parks, where our community center and athletic field serve hundreds of youth and families every day. And finally, I make my way down to the Canton waterfront to catch one last great view of the Patapsco on its way to the Chesapeake Bay.
Kingman and Heritage Islands are natural parklands found on the Anacostia River in Northeast Washington, DC. There are over 50 acres of natural area to be explored on these two island habitats by water and land.
Masonville Cove is 70 acres of water and 54 acres of cleaned-up wetlands, nature trails, and a protected bird sanctuary, all soon-to-be protected by a conservation easement and part of the Shores of Baltimore Land Trust.
This late 18th century star-shaped fort is world famous as the birthplace of the United States' National Anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner", written by Francis Scott Key.
The last all sail warship built by the US Navy, USS Constellation served her country for 100 years before her final decommissioning in 1955. It is now a center-piece of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
On Baltimore's Inner Harbor tour two historic Chesapeake Bay icons - the Lightship Chesapeake and the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse - both part of Historic Ships in Baltimore.