In the Schools   Leave a comment

March 22, 2012

By: Paul Lamoureux, Vice President of Programs

It’s March, clocks have been set ahead, spring has officially begun and Thompson Island youth programs are underway.

Thompson Island instructor in the classroom.

On March 7th, the first youth program of the year began with Thompson Island and National Park Service staff co-instructing a Harbor Connections lessons for 5th graders at the JFK elementary school in Jamaica Plain.

Concurrently, our program staff were meeting with teachers and planning the Environmental Connections expedition at the Rogers Middle School in Hyde Park and the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot School in Dorchester.

Summer Connections student recruitment efforts are also underway. Program staff visited two returning schools, the Marshall Elementary School in Dorchester and the Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, to get this year’s 3rd grade students excited about enrolling in Summer Connections as rising 4th graders. When we arrived, it was clear that word had spread about previous year student’s positive experience, as both schools 3rd grades were “abuzz” with anticipation.

Equally exciting were our visits to two new elementary schools that will participate in Summer Connections this year: the Mather Elementary School and the Holland Elementary School, both located in Dorchester. We are extremely pleased to welcome these two new schools to the Thompson Island family. Mather Principal Emily Cox and Holland Principal Jeichael Henderson seemed equally pleased with our new partnership.

After watching Program Director Alex Chu’s presentation, students at the Holland and Mather were super enthusiastic about coming to Thompson Island in the summer. Students peppered Alex with questions about the island, the boat ride, the food in the dining hall and if their whole family could come!

Summer Connections students and parents on Thompson Island

We also held parent orientation nights at all of the schools. Parents were briefed on all of our plans and precautions for ensuring that their children have a safe, fun and enriching five- week summer experience on Thompson Island. We talked about how we blend academics, English language arts, math, and science with environmental exploration and character-building activities. And we explained how we include Boston Public Schools (BPS) teachers, Thompson Island Outward Bound instructors and National Park Service rangers to offer a truly unique and fun experience for students.

During these same busy few weeks, we also visited the Young Achievers K-8 science and math school in Mattapan. Young Achievers 5th grade students participate in our 1-Day Harbor Connections field expeditions and 7th graders participate in our overnight Environmental Connections program.

Young Achievers has clearly demonstrated their commitment to experiential education and out of school time (OST) and their Principal, Virginia Chalmers, has instituted an expeditionary learning curriculum across all grade levels that include a heavy dose of hands-on field expeditions.

Environmental Connections students reconstructing rodent skeletons on Thompson Island

Based upon feedback from the Young Achievers and other partner schools, we expanded the length of the Environmental Connections program to a 3-day, 2-night experience on Thompson Island. The extended program time will enable further in-depth field studies and character-building activities and will, therefore, have a greater impact back in the classroom. Young Achiever’s 7th grade science teacher, Kris Grymonpre, plans to support his entire “water curriculum” (an important component of 7th grade curriculum in BPS) based upon his students’ experience on Thompson Island.

Young Achievers committed partnership with Thompson Island made the school the perfect location to host two Thompson Island events last week. First, Principal Chalmers, along with the school’s experiential education director, 7th grade science teacher, and four 7th grade students, hosted a contingent of Thompson Island donors. The school representatives and students gave members of the philanthropic community an overview of the school’s focus on experiential education, how important their partnership with Thompson Island is to them, and how impactful Thompson Island experiences are for the students.

We also hosted a Thompson Island Board of Trustees meeting that day right in the 7th grade science lab! Board Members received that same authentic glimpse as the earlier Thompson Island visitors into the life of a Boston public school and could really FEEL the benefit of all of their efforts in stewarding Thompson Island Outward Bound and directing its mission and programs.

A Connections student working on a map of the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area.

As this blog is being written, Thompson Island instructors and National Park rangers are now visiting the Murphy K-8 School in Dorchester and delivering classroom presentations filled with interactive activities designed to prepare students for their field expeditions. Later in March, Boston public school students from the Perkins Elementary, Hale Elementary, Edwards Middle, and the Horace Mann School for the Deaf will all participate in Harbor Connections.

Whether Harbor Connections, Environmental Connections, or Summer Connections, Thompson Island’s philanthropically funded, curriculum-based programs are all cranking into gear. In 2012, the Connections program will serve more than 4,000 students that are most at-risk and most in-need.

For now, Thompson Island’s season for being “in the schools” is in full swing. But as Mother Nature smiles upon us with a stretch of unseasonably warm weather, it is apparent that the next phase of Thompson Island programs, “on the islands,” will soon be upon us.

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