, Gloucester, MA

June 3, 2008

Seventh-Graders Research Perfect Story

Gail McCarthy

The lives of six fishermen lost at sea is not only becoming a movie but has also captured the interest of some local seventh-graders.

The story, brought to the world's attention through Sebastian Junger's book "The Perfect Storm," had a deeper meaning for students such as Joe Curcuru.

"I learned Gloucester is more than a fishing community and fishing is more than just a job -- it's a life," he said during a field trip yesterday.

He was among 50 O'Maley Middle School seventh-graders who cast off on a walking tour yesterday to interview people about "The Perfect Storm."

The children equipped themselves with questions, notepads, sketch sheets and cameras.

Led by teachers Ann Ziergiebel and Ann Caulton, they talked outside with Gregg Sousa, the owner of the Crow's Nest, Scott Memhard of Cape Pond Ice and Warner Brothers publicist Rob Harris.

The student project grew out of a partnership with The Perfect Storm Foundation, which is assisting students with research and making educational connections to the book and movie. The foundation's activities will include creating Internet links, making newsletters and filming a video of the project.

"The issue is, how do we deal with the stories that make up our lives and our communities? This is a story and there is so much to learn for it," Ziergiebel said.

For this trimester, students are seeking to answer questions about how conflicts are resolved and what are the choices people make in order to survive. This is the perfect story on which to focus these questions, she said.

Ziergiebel, a language arts teacher, said the seventh-graders are looking at stories and the words people choose to tell those stories.

"The book and the movie are a great vehicle to look at that," she said. "These children want to probe the stories of Gloucester that are swirling around them."

The project has helped seventh-grader Isabella Koen change her attitude about her community.

"I used to think that Gloucester was a stupid town. But with all the commotion, it's kind of cool," she said. "The fishermen risk their lives to get us food and now they are being recognized in this movie."

The students began the project -- called Uncovering the Perfect Story -- by reading the book, donated by the publisher. In fact, all seventh-graders are reading the story due to the donation of 350 books.

Building a national bond

After reading the bestseller, the students embarked on their bold project to gather material to enhance The Perfect Storm Foundation website at

"These students live in a community that is going to sprout a lot of interest and we know people are going to be interested in what we're doing. We feel we can contribute to a website that will be popular, and that

linking of technology can happen because of The Perfect Storm website."

A goal is to have the students contact every agency overseeing fishing regulations, using the skill of writing a business letter, to examine the problems with the industry. They will also ask the regulators to identify the middle schools in their area so the Gloucester students can contact their counterparts across the nation.

"We can begin to share both fishing data and stories about fishermen because that is really what drives 'The Perfect Storm' -- it is a human story," Ziergiebel said.

Dierdre Savage, the executive director of The Perfect Storm Foundation, was delighted at the students' ambitious work.

"This project is a perfect fit because this is the first step in our national outreach program," she said.

An icy issue

Reading the book led students to identify factors that played a role in the fate of the Gloucester swordfishing boat Andrea Gail.

The students identified refrigeration as an obstacle on the Andrea Gail because the ice machine, necessary to keep fish fresh on long trips, was malfunctioning. The book raised a point about whether the lack of ice led to a particularly fateful decision.

Some seventh-grade students yesterday morning went on a tour of Cape Pond Ice on Commercial Street in the Fort.

Memhard provided a tour of the plant and talked about ice-making from the time the fishing industry was in its infancy to modern times. The students first entered part of the plant that reeked of ammonia, used to help make ice.

Then they stepped into a room kept at 28 degrees where they shivered and watched the men dressed in jackets, hats and gloves move 335-pound blocks of ice.

Memhard told students that making ice today requires three ingredients: water, electricity to run the refrigeration compressors, and labor.

"When we sell ice to a fishing boat, they buy tons and tons of ice," Memhard said. At the end of the tour yesterday morning, a fishing boat docked as the fishermen yelled up, "Five tons of ice!"

Memhard recently sold 10 tons of ice as props for the re-created Andrea Gail being used in the movie.

"It was a bit eerie to put ice on that Andrea Gail," he said.

At the filming location on Harbor Loop, students met with publicist Harris, who explained that his job is to create awareness about the movie.

The students, however, sought answers to questions.

One student asked if the family complained about making the movie. Harris replied that no complaints were received. He explained that the movie was being made with respect for the book and the people affected by the tragedy of the Andrea Gail.

Answering another question, Harris said the stars did research and sought first-hand experiences on fishing boats before the filming began.

Another question related to the filming here. Harris said all exterior scenes will be filmed here while all interior scenes will be filmed in Los Angeles.

The movie is expected out next July 4.

As students left the filming area, they caught a glance of actor George Clooney playing basketball among the trailers.