Discover Boston’s Island Classroom

September, 2013

By Paul Lamoureux, Vice President Programs

Recently I spent the day touring Thompson Island with Forbes writer John Farrell. We traversed the island from “stem to stern” and John was truly amazed by the island’s myriad features, facilities, challenge courses, ecosystems and infrastructure. Whether it was the north end tide pools and eroding cliffs that provide the perfect “classroom” for intertidal or geology studies, or the south end Alpine Tower high ropes course area that provides an unmatched platform for character, trust and team-building, John clearly saw how beneficial our programs are to the youth of Boston and beyond. The pristine salt marshes, the amazing island history, and its proximity to Boston were icing on the cake. I’ll let John take it from here in his own words, as we’ve posted his article and accompanying video from in the TIOBlog this month. Read on and you’ll get a sense of how inspiring a Thompson Island visit can be to the uninitiated.

September 11, 2013
Historic Harbor Island Inspires Students To Take The Lead
By John Farrell (Source:

I stood in a large meadow of Thompson Island in Boston Harbor, historic home to philanthropic educational institutions going back to the early 1800s.


Paul Lamoureaux, the VP of Programs for Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, was literally showing me the ropes of the non-profit organization that works with the National Park Service and Boston public schools to introduce thousands of inner city kids to the wilds of nature –less than a few miles from where they live.

You’d have to look hard from several spots on this refuge to know Boston was anywhere in sight at all.

And that impression is one of the inspirations for the Outward Bound program, Lamoureaux told me, a program which has turned Thompson Island into a training ground for future leaders.

Standing in the meadow on the south west side of the island, we can face the huge Alpine Tower of the Challenge Course. While behind us, we can see where the tidal flow comes in and out of a salt marsh on the north side, facing Boston.


“We’re looking at the Back Bay,” said Lamoureaux. “The Back Bay used to be all salt marsh. And of course, the South Bay used to be all salt marsh –it was all part of the Charles River Basin.

“So, to show kids, when they come out, to bring them down to this side of the island, talk about the importance of the salt marshes–their continued importance as a nursery, as a filtering spot, how important they are to the larger ecosystem…”
“…and then to have the point come home to them–because they can see the city skyline here, and realize– ‘We’re right from there!’ –just how close they are to their own city, it’s pretty powerful.”

Lamoureaux turned to the challenge course, the two huge platforms in the middle of the meadow where students can rope-climb and clamber up structures–Alpine Wall and Tower– that look at least 100 feet high to me (they’re 60 feet).

But even with helmets and harnesses on their backs to prevent any fall, the task appears daunting (and I demurred from an invitation to try it out myself).

“This is sort of the icon of the challenge-based aspect of our program,” said Lamoureaux, “and the salt marsh is sort of the icon of the curriculum based aspect of our program.”

The challenge course is all about goal-setting, and overcoming fear, encouragement, support of team members, commitment, trust, he said.

“It’s just a potent platform for their training–and it will stay with them. These kids get something that they can draw on for the rest of their lives.”

Outward Bound’s emphasis on environmental projects also gets a lot of inner city kids excited about science. And that’s another point in its favor. It helps boost their grades.

Last year Outward Bound’s Connections program — which includes student groups from fifth to eighth grade– served more than 4,300 youngsters from 35 different Boston public schools. The program brings the students to the island for one-day and three-day expeditions to explore the woods and salt marshes and tidal inlets.

For older students, between the ages of 12 and 17, a Summer Expeditions program brings them on sailing and kayaking expeditions–and climbing and camping expeditions for those who prefer keeping the ground under their feet.


At the top of Outward’s proverbial pyramid of activities, stand the Green Ambassadors, high school students who’ve completed the earlier programs and are now in a position to work for six weeks of the summer, managing environmental preservation projects, and helping to teach and train kids in the intro programs readiness training and how to work in teams.

For many kids in Boston’s inner city schools, it’s like a trip to another continent.

“It must have been April when I was eleven,” Roisin Kirby of Boston’s Hyde Park district told me. “Educators from Thompson Island came to my school, the William Barton Rogers Middle School, to meet with students and introduce us to the organization.”

Initial meetings in class included games to work on team building. But they told Kirby and her classmates about an opportunity to take part in a five day stay on Thompson Island– to learn the Outward Bound mission, to gain a hard work ethic, to acquire team building skills — and to escape from the city.

“I was so excited, after school that day I told my parents about it and they said I could do it,” she said.

Kirby considered herself an outdoor person by nature. But she was not prepared for how enthralling she would find her first visit to Thompson. Every summer afterward, she returned for more advanced programs, and as soon as she was old enough, she applied for a job.


“When I was applying, I could choose between being a Green Corps member or an Island Ambassador. The Green Corps took part in landscaping projects and invasive species removal. I was interested in manual labor and I wanted to learn about different plants and animals on the harbor islands. I got the job and started in July of 2011.

“I thought my job was so cool, because I didn’t know anyone else who had a job like mine. All my friends were babysitters or waitresses or sales associates at random retail stores and I got to take a boat to work everyday.”

Working for Thompson Island Outward Bound has inspired Kirby–now in college at University of Massachusetts, Amherst–to pursue an outdoor career. “It has been a dream of mine to join the Peace Corps after I graduate college and working for Outward Bound has given me skills that I know I will use if and when I am selected to be a Peace Corps member.”

In September 2014, Kirby will begin a two-year Associates degree in Horticulture.

For Lamoureaux, a Boston native who loves the outdoors himself, reaching students like Roisin Kirby is what the big picture is all about.

The video I shot below offers a few highlights from Thompson Island at the height of summer.

Click here to view the video!



Posted September 13, 2013 by thompsonisland in Uncategorized

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