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Sterling elementary school students have classroom brought to life on Potomac River

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The Mildred Belle is packed with passengers. "We are taking Sugarland Elementary School students on our science cruise," Rachel Nichols of the Living Classrooms Foundation told ABC7 News.

For decades, the 70-year-old boat carried oysters along the Chesapeake Bay. Today, it's carrying Sterling, Virginia, fifth graders on the Potomac River.

"We're trying to make the classroom come alive by bringing them out on the water," Nichols said.

"Better to see something than just hearing about it," said 11-year-old Fernando Ruiz.

The Living Classroom's Shipboard Education Program emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math during the two-hour boat ride. Students are engaged in water quality testing, navigation and a marine life station.

Ten-year-old Paola Aguilar said she most enjoyed "touching the fish. We got to see the gills and what's inside.

The hands-on learning is designed to help students make valuable connections to classwork and community.

Sugarland STEAM Lab Teacher Darielle Timothy said, "In Sterling, Virginia, it's one little bubble but we're part of a larger bubble and that is this Washington, D.C. metropolis; but we're all connected and today with this boat trip they're realizing that."

Another objective of the program is to teach leadership and team building skills.

"We want them to leave with a greater appreciation of the river. We want them to be inspired to be environmental stewards," Nichols said.

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The Living Classrooms Foundation still has slots available for student groups through the end of October.

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