Enrichment, Education, and Summer Learning   Leave a comment

August 10, 2011

By: Paul Lamoureux, Program Director

In the lab on Thompson IslandAcademics and enrichment: two promises that describe a powerful Summer Learning experience for 75 6th and 7th grade students from the Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury.

Building a team.They’ve just graduated from the first session of summer programming on Thompson Island and 200 students, teachers, park rangers, and family members are departing the Island in a bittersweet farewell. It’s dawning on the students that their incredible experience over the last five weeks has just ended. It is our fervent hope that they go back to their school better equipped for the academic rigors of the school year and as leaders of their school community. Certainly bonds among their peers and their teachers have been greatly strengthened through their common experiences.

Welcoming Summer Learning students to Thompson Island.The Summer Learning program has been packed with activities that served to prevent summer learning loss and give the students a strong head start on the upcoming school year curriculum. The key to these academically oriented experiences is they are place-based and hands-on, designed to be memorable and therefore lead to retention of the material.

When I say place-based, I mean on the beach collecting and sorting specimens (creatures, shells, plants, etc.) and recording, graphing, and analyzing the data. A lot more memorable perhaps when it is say, hermit crabs or sea glass on a Thompson Island beach rather than book-based activities in a classroom. Perhaps the “place” in place-based is the meadow, among waist high grass, where insect collection and identification occurs. Are the insects pollinators or decomposers? Or the “place” could be at the mouth of the recently restored salt marsh, where students collect water samples and test and record salinity levels. Or perhaps we are in the pristine salt marsh, removing traps that are filled with mummachogs, or Atlantic silversides or three-spined sticklebacks. (We don’t merely call them minnows in this program!)

Research in the Thompson Island pristine saltmarsh.There are so many learning opportunities on Thompson Island and so many wonderful places and habitats on the island to solidify this learning. In order to best utilize all of these place-based learning options, there needed to be significant collaboration among all of the partners in these students’ experience. Teachers from the participating school, Thompson Island instructors, and National Park Rangers jointly deliver the Summer Learning Program on Thompson Island. Senior program staff from Thompson Island guide teachers, instructors, and Rangers in utilizing each person’s talents in academics and enrichment to blend a memorable experience for the students. An experience so engaging and interesting, that students bristle at the thought that this is actually “summer school.”

Not to worry students, the Summer Learning Program on Thompson Island is not like any summer school that most people are familiar with. After arriving on Thompson Island in the morning, all students “circle-up” with teachers, rangers, and instructors and a daily check-in occurs. Then, the students head off with teachers and instructors for teacher-led, place-based learning opportunities throughout the 200-acre island.

After lunch, while teachers planned the following days activities, students either embark upon challenge-based activities with Thompson Island instructors or environmental-based activities with National Park Rangers. Again, these activities happen throughout the entire island, whether on low or high ropes courses, orienteering areas or in meadows, fields, beaches, forests, or marshes.

Ranger Led ActivitiesStudents were constantly outside, immersed in nature, immersed in place-based learning and immersed in challenge-based activities. They were actively engaged in their learning. They were truly challenged; physically; mentally; and emotionally. They learned to work effectively, independently, and as a team. Activities were most often a blend between academics and enrichment, and students were expected to work together to achieve an outcome.

More Ranger Led Activities.All in all, the entire experience was truly a partnership in student learning. Everyone was engaged on a daily basis. All were part of the Thompson Island community. Everybody grew from the experience. This was abundantly clear at the student’s graduation experience. Through the student “trade show” where they demonstrated examples of their learning, through the images in the slide show and through remarks expressed by all present, it was clear what an impactful five weeks it had been.

I want to thank all of the students and staff from Orchard Gardens, the National Park Service, Citizen Schools, and Thompson Island for all working so hard, during a long hot summer to make the experience so wonderful for these 75 students.

Next up: our second Summer Learning session for 75 4th graders. All of our partners stand ready to deliver on the promise of Academics and Enrichment for another powerful summer learning experience for Boston’s urban youth.

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