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Making waves: Meet this 'Titanic Club' and its 7-year-old captain

It's the truly unsinkable after-school activity! What began with a first-grader's obsession turned into a popular club and a 90,000-piece Lego replica of the ship.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — Some people might call it showboating. But ask any of these elementary students and they'd argue the Titanic Club blows everything else out of the water! 

That's right, it's the after-school activity that's making waves at Rock Island's Eugene Field Elementary School

Every other Thursday nearly two dozen students, from kindergarten up to sixth grade, gather after classes for the club's meeting. Kids get to discuss interesting facts about the ship, create tiny aluminum foil replicas and explore a shared interest in a safe, supportive space. It's all about fostering creativity and a love for history. 

They also got to build a 90,000 piece Lego Titanic set. Already impressive on the outside, you can open up the ship and peer into fully-constructed Lego bedrooms, an engine rooms and a pool. On the top, four smokestacks, a full deck and even a tiny flag help complete the replica. And believe it or not, club advisors say not a single Lego was lost over months of building! 

Visit a club meeting and the kids will each have a list of their favorite Titanic facts to rattle off. 

"Did you know there's a ship that looks exactly like the Titanic! It's called the Olympic," said first-grader Ollie Larson. Then, after a few moments of thought, "Well, one's bigger and one's smaller." 

Second-grader Aria Atkin will tell you it was a ship with so many things to do on board. 

"I would like to go on it, but I can't do that sadly," she said. 

"They literally had a lot of food on it," exclaimed second-grader Hollis Waymack. 

While second-grader Oliver Verhaeghe proudly revealed, "My fact is that one of the Titanic's four smokestacks is actually fake!" 

So who's leading this charge of curious crew members? None other than 7-year-old club captain, Vaughn Wilson. 

You can quiz Vaughn on when the ship set sail ("April 11, 1912") as well as when it sunk. 

"April 15, 1912," Vaughn rattled off instantly. "It hit the iceberg on the 14th but sunk on the 15th." 

When we caught up with the first-grader, he was proudly wearing one of his three Titanic shirts. And we couldn't help but ask if he'd seen the movie. 

"It was pretty good. I did not watch the sassy parts," Vaughn exclaimed. He then held his arms out, demonstrating Jack and Rose's famously perched on the bow of the boat and saying that was the "funniest" part of the movie since so many memes had been made of that moment. 

"But if you don't like it sinking that's okay! You don't have to watch the sinking part," he reassured us. 

Vaughn first became infatuated with the ship and its tragic demise when he was five years old. He says he was at his grandparent's house when he stumbled across a YouTube video. And the rest is history (much like his favorite ship). 

"He was fascinated by it! From then on he wanted a Titanic shirt, he wanted a Titanic model. He wanted a Titanic comforter, sweatshirts, alarm clocks, backpacks, lunchboxes and it just snowballed," laughed his mother, Lindsey Wilson. 

She says when Vaughn began first grade and found out he was in student leadership it didn't take long for him to tell her he wanted to start a Titanic club. 

Wilson is a paraprofessional at Eugene Field, where Vaughn goes to school. After clearing it with school administration, Vaughn put together a signup sheet for his new club. He even wrote an essay on why students should join and then presented it for his class. 

"I thought many people in this school did not know about (the Titanic). Probably just forgot about it! So that's why I made this club," Vaughn said. "Some little kids like boats and they probably want to get into different boats!"

And it turns out many little kids like boats. Especially this one. It didn't take long for kids throughout the school to start signing up. 

"I was totally surprised that many kids in elementary school are interested in a historic artifact like the Titanic," laughed Wilson. 

She recalled one kindergartner telling her his own mother didn't believe the club was actually real. Wilson personally wrote a note for the child's parent and sent it home with him that day. 

"And I get a text message from her and she's like, 'I thought my kid was the only one!' And I'm like nope, there's at least two because mine's like that," Wilson laughed. 

And she's certainly set sail with the club as well. Wilson not only stays after school to help oversee the Titanic crew, she also purchased the giant Lego replica and donated it to the tiny historians. 

"It is kind of morbid and weird but that's okay," she laughed. "We're gonna foster it and love it and build something!" 

Of course, we asked Vaughn if he had learned anything new about his favorite ship since starting the club. But all we got was him laughing incredulously in our face! 

"Um, that's impossible! Because I already know all about the Titanic," Vaughn said. 

And as the 2022-2023 school year comes to a close, Wilson is already thinking of next year. While she thinks the Titanic Club's ship might have sailed, she says there's a possibility it might be reborn and focus on a new historical topic when students return in the fall. 

So to celebrate the end of a full year of Titanic Club, the crew is sending off their own ship with a Titanic gala. The students will get to dress up as passengers and have their own characters with boat tickets. At the end of the night, each child will get to find out if their character would have survived the Titanic's fatal collision with the iceberg. 

But just ask Vaughn: he's sure of his own fate. 

"I already know I would survive," he said excitedly. "If there's a lifeboat underneath me I'd just jump off the Titanic and see if I landed in the lifeboat!"

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