2020 Boatschool Graduate

Hailey Jaye Shanafelt
Noeta Academy Graduate, Valedictorian and Senior Class President

This is Hailey. She was a senior in high school in 2020 who also happened to be living and schooling on a boat her junior and senior years. When we chose to pull her out of high school and cruise to Mexico, two of the things she said she would miss the most were prom and graduation.  She has known for two years that she wouldn't get to have these typical rights of passage, and while it made her sad at times, we had time to plan and adjust to the idea. This past spring I had begun organizing a marina-wide graduation with a mariachi band and everything...and then.....Covid 19. No big celebration for us, or anyone else for that matter. 

Before Mexico went into lockdown, we were able to throw a small surprise graduation party on our dock in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. I decorated the outside of the boat, we set up a projector, invited two close boating families over and had an outdoor graduation with cap and gown, pomp and circumstance playing and the presentation of a Noeta Academy diploma. As valedictorian and senior class president Hailey didn't have much to say as she tearfully watched a video with clips from teachers and friends from around the world. Here is Hailey's Graduation Video.

Hailey's graduation video.

Hailey's well-earned Noeta Academy Diploma.
(lots of websites make them, this one is from Academic Excellence)

Super small surprise graduation with the crews of SV Totem and SV Pulsar

It was not what I had planned on doing, no one's graduation will be this year. However, ours was going to look different anyway, so probably easier to cope with than most 18 year olds. But being a boater, nothing is like it is 'back home'. 

While our kids may 'miss out' on some things, they sure do get to experience amazing opportunities that most kids don't. Here's a look back at some of those things:

Personalized schooling!
This is a wooden sailboat at the La Cruz marina.
Hailey was asked to design artwork for it.
She hasn't had the opportunity to paint this on the boat yet,
but this is a representation of what it will look like when she does.
Hailey was a guest speaker at a 2020 Women Who Sail
event where she shared a teenager's perspective about the boat life.

Hailey helped decorate and design a Day of the Dead altar in La Cruz.
She then did research about the holiday, wrote a speech and delivered it to cruisers and locals. 
Multiple times, Hailey volunteered for the Spay and Neuter clinic.
Music class; Short little jam session on the dock.
Hikes and waterfalls count for PE
So this is us learning about mezcal...didn't add that class to the transcript!
Artist Hailey painted faces of local volunteers for the Zombie Fun Run.
Collected trash then designed and built an unbeatable sailboat with a team for a trash boat regatta
Maybe counts for physics and envirnomental science.
Biology class includes an opossum
Petroglyphs in the mountains make for an interesting Geology field trip.
Hailey as Primary Net Controller for the Kids' Net in Banderas Bay.
First time voter - from Mexico!
Celebrated diversity in Puerto Vallarta!
Home Ec class - learning how to make tamales from a local woman.
Learned how to paint - using a fish!
Thanks to Mike at PV Sailing!

Helped some sea turtles get to the ocean!
Came back again to help rebuild and maintain the turtle rescue.
Hailey organized a giving tree for the local orphanage.
She read all of the kids' letters in Spanish and translated what the kids
wanted for cruisers and locals.
Sometimes, this is what the classroom looked like - these kids are amazing!
Learning how authentic black pottery is made from a local artisan. Hands on pottery class at its finest!
Meeting the locals, speaking in Spanish and learning their craft.
This kind of classroom isn't found in a traditional school.
Art Class - Hailey helped design and paint the Kids Club logo.
While the lesson was bartending (not on the transcript), she was helping to raise funds
for a variety of local organizations.
Art class can happen anywhere.
We will miss Hailey - But we are so excited for her!

Hailey will be attending Western Washington University in the Fall. She has received some academic scholarships and has applied for others. They have recently announced that they intend to open campus and have hybrid in-person classes. We are thrilled she will be going to college in September, though it will look different so that staff and students are safe. We know that she is completely prepared for any online and hybrid classes since that's what she has been doing for the last couple of years.

Want to send Hailey a congratulations email? Write her at hailey@mvnoeta.com !

Advice for fellow boat schoolers whose kids may be college bound:

Practice for and take the SAT or ACT. Hailey took the SAT in Mexico and again in the US. What we heard from all of the colleges she visited and applied to - we need to turn in a transcript with the appropriate course work, but it really doesn't count for anything. They really look at the standardized test to decide eligibility. Now there is some discussion of colleges doing away with the SAT and ACT, and who knows how they'll compare boatschoolers to other students, but for now, it's still the standard.

Read and Write often. If they can do this, they will benefit in every content area. However this was a tough one since my kids don't love either of these. But we made it creative and real as often as we could.  My kids blogged a little, wrote letters about the cultures we saw and read and wrote opinion pieces for potential newspapers about current events. Last year we did find other teens and started a teen book club, meeting monthly on different boats. It was a fabulous way to get the kids to read and have excellent discussions. We are even doing a summer session on Zoom even though we're scattered all over the place.

Relax. Teenage years are hard enough on everyone in the family. Be patient with each other and don't sweat the small stuff. Boat kids learn such amazing things about life and people. One of the prompts for Hailey's college essay was 'Explain how you have participated in the community and honored diversity.' She wrote a fabulous essay, all about volunteering in the local and cruising community and the unique perspective she has regarding diversity. She read it out loud to me and was amazed to see, all in one place, all that she had accomplished. Boat kids are perseverant, observant, patient, empathetic and open minded - these are things you just can't learn from a text book.

Read more articles about schooling on Noeta HERE.


  1. I love the great collection of photos. I remember Hailey's wonderful smile as she walked down the Artondale hallways! Congratulations.


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