From the Gala to the Islands: Demonstrating Student Impact and Community Support

May 7, 2012

By: Paul Lamoureux, Vice President of Programs

Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center’s Annual Gala was recently held at the Seaport Hotel and was the most successful event in recent memory. More than 500 people filled the Seaport’s largest ballroom. Student ambassadors and young alumni from Thompson Island Outward Bound programs acted as guides, shepherding attendees from the many hotel entrances to the registration areas while revealing stories of Thompson Island experiences.

Principal Teresa Harvey-Jackson of the Marshall Elementary School in Dorchester spoke about the impact of the Summer Connections program on the students who attended, as well as on her larger school community. As Principal Harvey-Jackson made her remarks, teachers and students from the Marshall Elementary School and the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury shared the stage with her to the delight of the audience.

According to Principal Harvey-Jackson, Marshall School students returned after their summer experience on Thompson Island “changed.” The following is excerpted directly from her remarks.

“What is truly remarkable about this story is how a five-week program for 40 students made a difference for all 90 rising fourth graders. The fourth grade teachers and I had observed how difficult the third grade year had been for some of them, especially our children who struggle with emotional and social needs. However, when they returned in the fall they looked different. They were happy and chatted about their summer learning. During writer’s workshop they eagerly shared stories about the island. Their vocabulary had grown. They were more curious. They also behaved differently. They were nicer to each other. In cooperative math and reading groups they worked well together. They filed through the building modeling appropriate behavior. I was beginning to think they had been hypnotized but they were still their loud, animated selves at lunchtime in the cafeteria.”

She goes on to characterize the experience for some of her students on the island.

“While you struggled academically during the school year, you are amongst students that excelled, yet you are all learning new things together. You became risk takers. This is all new to everyone so you are willing to expose yourself. You discover that there are things that you do better than your academically talented peers. You all rely on each other for support. You laugh together not at each other. It now feels childish to taunt one another. With each new experience your self-esteem grows. On the ferry ride home you wonder where the day went. How can it be 4:00pm when it was just 8:00 a.m.?”

By way of thanking the assembled donors for their support, Principal Harvey-Jackson closed with the following:

“I’m going to ask you to give yourselves a great big hug. That hug is from the many, many children who are grateful to people like you that make it possible for them to have the same summer experiences that my own biological children, as well as your children, take for granted. Without you I could not provide my students with this amazing, memorable opportunity. On behalf of Boston Public School students, thank you for caring and your commitment to making a difference for children. Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t thank our superintendent of schools, Dr. Carol Johnson for embracing non-traditional summer programming and seeking partnerships that provide our children with valuable learning opportunities.”

The Gala was once again a wonderful way to hear directly from those most impacted by Thompson Island programs. It is particularly gratifying that we are able to serve so many from the communities most at-risk and most in need. In 2012, Connections will ignite a love of learning in 4,000 students from over 40 schools, 75% of which are located in Boston’s under-served communities.

As the Gala was winding down, the Thompson Island spring expedition season was ramping up. Harbor Connections instructors were following-up on more than 150 preparatory classroom visits this spring with the first field expeditions of the year.

Students and teachers from the Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain, the Condon Elementary School in South Boston, and the Winthrop Elementary School in Dorchester all traveled to Lovell’s Island. Under the guidance of Thompson Island instructors and National Park Rangers, students explored the island’s extensive tide pools collecting specimens, handling animal life, gathering and recording data and having a wonderful learning experience directly within the tidal ecosystem.

Thompson Island came alive with students and teachers from the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown and the Mildred Avenue Middle School in Mattapan. Thompson Island instructors and National Park Rangers co-facilitated impactful, hands-on learning expeditions based on weather and water curriculum. Students traversed the island, collecting water samples, using instruments to determine the water’s salinity, creating hypotheses and learning about how salinity relates to density.

One of the teacher’s had the following to say:

“Thank you so much for the wonderful, well-planned field trip you and your staff provided yesterday. The students learned a lot about the different kinds of water and their density. Our teachers and chaperones thought that this was the best field trip we have ever had. Thanks again.”

Although well-articulated by principals and teachers, it is clear that the impact of Thompson Island does not only apply to students. This holds true for everyone who comes to Thompson Island from the conference attendee, to the wedding guest, to the professional group, to the corporate volunteers, to the company outing, to the runners in our annual 4k race. No matter what the program or event, Thompson Island has the power to touch and transform lives and to create lasting memories through learning or bonding experiences.

Attending our recent Gala was yet another reminder for me of this impact and I’m truly thankful for the incredible generosity of all those attending the event. I’m extremely proud and grateful to be part of an organization that inspires such support from the community.

I also want to thank the corporate and student volunteers who worked at the Gala. We couldn’t have done it without you. But mostly, I want to thank Principal Harvey-Jackson who so clearly demonstrated her passion for the value and impact of the Thompson Island experience.

To view additional photos from the Gala click here.

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