Planting the Seeds of the Future

September 12, 2012

By: Paul Lamoureux, Vice President of Programs

On July 27th, we hosted the season’s first Summer Connections graduation event at the Island Pavilion and more than 100 family members came to the island to be part of the student’s final day. 75 rising 4th grade, 6th grade and 7th grade students from the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury were celebrated by teachers, staff and families.

On August 31st, in a déjà vu-like day, this spectacle was repeated when 75 rising 4th grade students from the Mather, Marshall and Holland elementary schools in Dorchester celebrated their graduation from Summer Connections. Again, more than 100 family members came to the island on the Motor Vessel Outward Bound to join in the festivities.

After spending five weeks on the island, the students had so much to share with their families. Graduation day ceremonies included: students leading family members on tours of classrooms, high ropes and field science course sites; student presentations of class and individual projects; refreshing food and beverages in the Pavilion event site; playing fields and beach volleyball courts filled with Frisbees, balls and laughter; and an awesome “big screen” slideshow filled with photos and video of the student’s summer experience. To get an even better glimpse of the student’s summer experience, watch the video below.

Students truly experienced all that Thompson Island has to offer and, whether in the classroom or the lab, the salt marshes or the meadows, the high ropes or the low ropes, the beaches or the forests, students traversed the entire island. What was truly impressive was the intentionality with which each activity achieved a desired academic or enrichment outcome, all the while enabling the students to simply enjoy and appreciate their beautiful natural surroundings.

Following the graduation slide show, students were then recognized individually and honored by their Boston Public School (BPS) teachers. They then received graduation certificates from Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, and accepted junior ranger badges from the National Park Service. The day culminated with the students citing the junior ranger “pledge” which focused on appreciating, preserving and protecting natural places!

Due to the intentional integration of academics and enrichment activities, and through the finely honed partnership of BPS teachers, Thompson Island staff and National Park Service Rangers, it is our strong belief that we achieved the program goal of “reducing summer learning loss” for these students and we also positioned them for academic gains in the upcoming school year. Early results from pre- and post-testing of students in the Voyager math curriculum indicate statistically significant gains in math proficiency!

Perhaps we have planted the seeds for some of these students that a career in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) is not farfetched at all! Now that they have spent a summer doing actual field science and connecting field work to Math and English Language Arts, a STEM career may now be conceivable.

Although this year’s academic sessions were the best planned and executed yet for Summer Connections, undoubtedly many of the students fondest memories will come from experiences in the enrichment activities. Without fail, climbing the Alpine Tower or swinging on the Giant Swing creates indelible memories, especially if students have overcome significant fears to participate. Other experiences such as catching minnows or crabs in the salt marsh or netting insects of all varieties in the meadow, elicits powerful memories as well.

However, at the end of the day, the bonds created among students and between students and teachers, rangers and Thompson Island staff was extraordinary. The importance of strong peer-to-peer and youth-to-adult relationships cannot be overstated and I thank each and every member of the Summer Connections team for their dedication to these young people and for delivering such an impressive program this year.

And while it is the end of the summer, it is the beginning of a new school year. And, after five weeks in the beautiful natural setting of Thompson Island, being prepared by teachers, instructors and rangers for a new school year, I’m sure that 150 students from the Orchard Gardens, Mather, Marshall and Holland schools will be well positioned for success. They will undoubtedly also bring back some of the Thompson Island experience to their schools and, with rekindled confidence and leadership skills, may continue to grow and effect change within their school cultures. I wish them all the best in the upcoming school year and beyond!

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