Brendan Sailing School works with students who learn differently to give them freedom on the water. Photo: Brendan Sailing School

Founder of Sailing School for Kids with Learning Differences Honored with Award

“I’m going to sailing school that’s entirely for kids like me,” announces 11-year old Maggie Lee (whose name has been changed for privacy), a bright, rambunctious child who is excited to start sixth grade this fall. Lee will be attending Brendan Sailing, the sailing program offering lessons out of Annapolis, St. Marys, and Washington, DC. for children with learning differences.

This month, Brendan Sailing’s founder—a former president of US Sailing well known on the Bay for his ocean racing feats—was honored with a national award from the U.S. Coast Guard Foundation. James P. Muldoon, a longtime Annapolis sailor, realized years ago that his own son needed a different approach to learning to sail. Brendan Sailing is the result.

Maggie is a perfect candidate for the specialized sailing program.

“It’s for kids who have ADHD, dyslexia, and who are on the spectrum, like me,” she says without hesitation or any sense of insecurity. 

Maggie is among a new generation of children who are aware of their differences in the learning process, and who embrace their strengths rather than shy away from them. Maggie is extremely intelligent and confident, with high energy to boot. When it comes to learning new skills, she’s quick to pick up new concepts but struggles with follow through.

“She processes information in an entirely different way,” her mother says. “It’s hard to put her in a classroom and ask her to sit still and listen, because she is aware of so many different things happening at once. It’s been very helpful to have instructors who understand the way her brain works and can appreciate how differently she’s seeing the world.”

Those instructors are the sailing coaches at Brendan Sailing, who specialize in creating various pathways for growth in their students. With a ratio of one instructor to no more than three students, Brendan Sailing instructors offer out-of-the-box learning modalities that speak more than one educational language. 

Jim Muldoon, right, is presented with the US Coast Guard Foundation’s Guardian Award. Handout photo.

“Everybody is different, and those differences manifest in different ways,” says Joanne Dorval, Program President at Brendan Sailing. “It’s important for our instructors to understand those differences and individualize instruction to meet them where they are.” 

This approach involves less chalk talk and more hands-on time. Dorval says that it’s hard for Brendan sailors to look at a dry erase board and understand points of sail. But when they’re given a model boat and a fan, things make sense. 

“In the discovery learning method, students figure out the solution on their own,” she says. “Then, when they’re on the water and they can actually sail, they’ve achieved something that prior to this camp they had no idea they could do.”

Muldoon, the owner and skipper of Donnybrook, has been a fixture on Bay race courses for decades. He has made sure Brendan Sailing is inclusive and passionate about getting everyone on the water in their own way. 

Earlier this month the US Coast Guard Foundation presented Muldoon with the prestigious Guardian Award for his efforts to inspire new sailors and bring more children to the water. Brendan Sailing has been Muldoon’s project for the last 40 years, and the award is recognition for his selfless work and commitment to the education of sailing. 

 Brendan Sailing offers instruction in Annapolis and St. Marys. For more information, visit brendansailing.org.

-Duffy Perkins