Ship bears name chosen by former NHS students

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From left, Naugatuck High School graduate Michelina Cioffi, Class of 2009, Naugatuck High biology teacher Beth Lancaster, and Science Department Chair Gena Spiller stand in front of the coastal mapping vessel Ferdinand R. Hassler during a christening ceremony last month in Norfolk, Va. Four of Lancaster’s former students won an essay contest to name the ship in 2007. –CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association coastal mapping vessel Ferdinand R. Hassler is ready to set sail, thanks in part to Naugatuck High School.

On June 8, the vessel was officially christened the Ferdinand R. Hassler during a special ceremony at NOAA’s Marine Operations Center-Atlantic in Norfolk, Va.

The christening ceremony, which has been years in the making, took on special meaning to four Naugatuck High graduates.

In 2007, Naugatuck High biology teacher Beth Lancaster presented an essay to her students as a way for them to get ready for the upcoming standardized testing and as an enrichment activity.

The essay was part of a competition to choose a name for the ship. Students had to research a name and write an essay on why the ship should bear that name. The competition was open to middle and high school students from New England, since the boat would be homeported in New Castle, N.H.

Then sophomores Michelina Cioffi, Scott Dyer, Mark Lee, and Steven Plante wrote an essay for a competition, explaining why the ship should be named Ferdinand R. Hassler.

“Ferdinand Hassler was a Swiss immigrant whose scientific skill, strength of character, and indomitable nature guided the Coast Survey through many difficult times until his death in 1843. Hassler left a thriving organization imbued with principles of scientific accuracy, standards, and integrity as his gift to the American people. His legacy directly influenced 200 years of hydrographic surveys and the creation of NOAA,” the NOAA said in a press release.

The students chose Hassler because he was such an important figure to NOAA, according to Cioffi.

“When we first logged on to NOAA’s website, he was right there on the main screen,” Cioffi recalled.

After they won, the students were flown to Mississippi for the keeling ceremony. This provided them with a first look at the plans for the ship.

“It is a state of the art vessel. There is nothing like it anywhere else,” Lancaster said.

Five years later, when the ship was finished, the NOAA invited Science Department Chair Gena Spiller, Lancaster, and the students to be present at the christening ceremony. Of the students, only Cioffi was able to attend.

Cioffi was very happy to be able to see the boat completed.

“It is huge. There are so many things this boat can do,” Cioffi said. “It’s really just amazing.”

Lancaster echoed Cioffi’s sentiments.

“It was really nice to see the boat completed,” Lancaster said. “In 2007, when they flew us down to Mississippi for the keeling ceremony there were only two hulls built.”

Lancaster said even though three out of the four students were unable to make it, all of them were ecstatic to have been part of this process. Lancaster was also proud to be part of this project.

“I was really proud of the contribution we had made to the ship and its name, which is so fitting for what it’s doing,” Lancaster said. “I was very proud to be a teacher from Naugatuck High School. The school was recognized on several occasions during the ceremony.”