By: Cindy Nickerson, New England Science and Sailing Executive Director, and Mary Ann Horrigan, NESS Program Director
While sailing along in Captain Nick on a sunny October day with a cool, steady breeze, a student from the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School STEM Academy throws her arms in the air exclaiming, “I feel like I can do anything!” These are the rewarding moments when all sailing instructors and NESS & NESS SEA educators can agree that sailing is a life-affirming, confidence-building sport founded in awesome STEM experiences.
The student above is part of a new AmeriCorps State program at New England Science & Sailing Foundation (NESS) called the NESS SEA (STEM Education Ambassadors) AmeriCorps Program. Through this program, AmeriCorps volunteers perform a year of service leading students through adventures in sailing, marine science, and kayaking as well as teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts. The US Sailing REACH modules represent a key foundation for the curriculum for the STEM Academy, as they have for many NESS programs. We are grateful for the opportunity to pilot the Reach curriculum over two years ago, and we’re delighted how it’s become such an integral part of our curriculum.
AmeriCorps is a national service program where individuals devote time to serving a targeted community need while gaining valuable experience, training, earning a stipend, and securing money for education. Funded by the Corporation for National & Community Service through the Connecticut Commission on Community Service along with matching private grants, the NESS SEA AmeriCorps Program has been operating for nearly two months in New London, CT, and has already seen major successes.
We are thrilled to have seven incredible young adults as our first NESS SEA AmeriCorps members. What an impressive bunch! Collectively, they have degrees in marine biology, environmental science, marine affairs, environmental studies, and Spanish. They have experience at the Rozalia Project, Audubon Society, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. They’ve been on the sailing team at Eckerd, the swim team at Hawaii, and they’ve completed SEA Semester programs in the Pacific and the Caribbean. By the end of their service year, they will be US Sailing Level 1 certified. Importantly, they hope to make a difference in the lives of their students; interestingly, they’re already seeing their impact.
The NESS SEA AmeriCorps Program targets teaching up to 200 students this school year with training and support from the seasoned NESS staff. Each sixth and seventh grade student attends a program once a week, alternating between classroom and field sessions. During many fall and spring field sessions, students sail on a variety of boats, while other field excursions include kayaking, tide-pooling, engineering, and experimenting. The sixth grade program curriculum includes Sailing 101, Meteorology, Watersheds, Ecosystems, Biomimicry, and Engineering; seventh grade, Biological Oceanography, Field Monitoring, and the Physics of Sailing. We proudly utilize all ten US Sailing Reach modules and extension activities throughout the year as they form the basis of many of our lessons.
In addition to helping to develop and teach the after school sessions, NESS SEA AmeriCorps members provide support to students and teachers throughout the academic school day. They collaborate with teachers to integrate the NESS and Reach curriculum, attend classes with students, and serve as mentors and role models. To reinforce concepts learned during the school year, NESS SEA AmeriCorps educators are excited to lead an 8-week summer learning program that includes morning academics and support, and afternoon snorkeling and kayak excursions at the new satellite classroom and vibrant estuarine system at Ocean Beach Park in New London. Unquestionably, the NESS SEA AmeriCorps Program enables a high level of service to students with low student to teacher ratios, which lead to increased student engagement and success.
With ambitious goals for the future, NESS SEA AmeriCorps educators already report early successes. Students are truly engaged in their learning while in NESS programs, and classroom support is making a difference for all students in class – not just those individuals being shadowed. Students are realizing the NESS SEA team provides regular help and support, so trust is building. And the NESS SEA team reports that students are “totally different people” out in the field and they’re learning life skills that can be transferred to the classroom. These represent important, albeit qualitative, observations, especially given the early stage of the program.
For more details on the NESS SEA AmeriCorps Program, please visit http://www.nessf.org/AmeriCorps.html and check out some pictures on the NESS SEA AmeriCorps Facebook Page! Stay tuned for more updates as the program progresses. Hopefully we’ll have more results and successes to share!
and Mary Ann Horrigan, Program Director
New England Science and Sailing (NESS)