Monday, July 16, 2018

Homeschool is Cool on Narragansett Bay

by Rachael Lewin, communications intern, Save The Bay

Homeschooling began to grow in popularity in the 1970s when educational theorist John Holt advocated for the reform of public schools. Holt asked parents to consider schools without walls, where kids can learn at their own pace in their own environment. This experiential-based approach has grown significantly over the years and now more than 2 million U.S. children are being taught from home.

In 2008, Save The Bay added a new program, Homeschool is Cool, to its robust set of marine science environmental education courses. Once a month from September to May, children ages 6-14 meet for two-hour sessions to explore Narragansett Bay through its various creatures, watershed and habitats. Learning progress is tracked in journals that students use to take notes and draw pictures of their observations. All of Save The Bay’s education programs are linked to national science standards and Rhode Island’s grade span and grade learning expectations, making Homeschool is Cool a win for parent-teachers and students alike.

On a typical chilly day in February, some 25 children from kindergarten to third grade arrive at the Bay Center abuzz about the day’s activities. Educators have already been down to the dock to gather microscopic plankton from the Providence River, and the lesson starts with a primer on these tiny organisms. The students learn that plankton are the most abundant species in the Bay, and can range in size from miniscule to larger than a human. With older kids helping the younger ones, microscopes in the plankton lab at the Bay Center give these young marine scientists the chance to look at the different types of plankton up close, and then the students draw what they see in their observation journals.

Craft activities help reinforce the marine science lesson as students “make” a plankton out of Play-Doh and spaghetti. And since plankton float, rather than swim, in the water, the students are challenged to make spaghetti plankton that actually float. Contagious excitement fills the room as the students cheer and clap for the “plankton” that looked like they might actually float. In the end, spaghetti and Play-Doh prove to be less-than-buoyant and all the plankton eventually make their way to the bottom of the container.

“Programs like this are so great because they allow for my kids to have some real hands-on experience with the animals they’re reading and learning about. They come home eager to share what they learned and inspired to continue learning about the Bay and all the different aspects that make it so special,” said a mother of an excited third grader.

On a hazy March afternoon, homeschoolers and their families gather on the dock at Bowen’s Landing in Newport. After the group receives life jackets and safety guidelines, the excursion to look for seals begins. Before heading out to visit the seals at their favorite hangout spot, the educators introduce Sealia, Save The Bay’s life-size harbor seal model. On the outside, Sealia is simply a stuffed animal, but on the inside she is anatomically correct, with removable plush organs.

The educators break down the replica, explaining how the seals’ six inches of blubber along with a metabolic rate higher than land mammals, keeps them warm. The children learn that Narragansett Bay is an ideal location for seals’ winter vacationing because it is a safe place to rest, free from common predators, with a bounty of fish to eat.

As the boat makes it way to one of the seals’ favorite spots, Citing Rock, underneath the Newport Bridge, the educators talk about the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which helped raise the seal count in the Bay each winter from less than 20 to more than 500. Once the rock is in sight, the children swarm over to the side of the boat to catch the best view. The rocks seem to be overflowing with the majestic mammals, with a few bobbing around in the water seemingly approaching the boat to say hello.

The parents, marveling at the large number and beauty of the animals, stand back to allow the youngsters to be in front. Some hold up their phones to take pictures, some chat amongst themselves about the days activities. Homeschooling has become much more than just parents teaching their children at home. An aunt of one of the students pointed out that when enrolled in traditional schooling, weekends feel so hectic and busy, especially if sports and other extracurricular activities are a part of the schedule. Homeschooling, she said, allows for more family, time whether during the week or on the weekends, and that doing programs like this during the week eliminates the worry of weekend crowds. Parents work together to connect classroom lessons and experiences, creating communities of families who use this style of education and programs that make these experiences possible.

A father of one of the young adventurers shared his memories of struggling through school and constantly feeling behind his peers, so when it came time for his own kids to go to school, homeschooling was the answer. He and his wife quickly realized that this style of educating is a learning experience for the parents just as much as the kids, but seeing his son’s passion and excitement for learning makes the extra work worth it.

“Our homeschool programs further our mission to connect all students in Rhode Island to Narragansett Bay” said Grainne Conley, Save The Bay education program manager. The longest lasting memories come from experiences, fond memories of time with family or friends. So why not intertwine them with education? For more information on all of the programs Save The Bay offers, visit

Monday, July 9, 2018

Olympic Swimmer Elizabeth Beisel joins the Save The Bay Swim

by Katy Dorchies, marketing and graphics specialist

Swimmers and kayakers have myriad reasons for participating in Save The Bay’s annual Swim fundraiser—for some it’s about pushing their physical limits, while for others it’s simply about helping to protect the Bay. For Save The Bay’s first community Swim Ambassador, it’s all about giving back to the hometown waters that helped her reach her goals.

“I grew up on the beaches of Narragansett Bay, which is where I fell in love with the water,” said three-time Olympic medalist and Rhode Island native Elizabeth Beisel. “That love helped me accomplish my dreams to represent Rhode Island and the United States in the Olympics.”

As Save The Bay’s first Swim Ambassador, Beisel will offer welcoming remarks to participants in Newport on August 4 before jumping in the water and tackling the 1.7-nautical-mile swim challenge alongside other swimmers and kayakers. She will then present final awards from the Swim’s finish at Taylor Point in Jamestown.

Swimmers and fans, however, won’t have to wait until August to hear from Beisel. In the summer months leading up to the event, she will teach two youth swim clinics, share open-water swimming tips through Save The Bay’s blog and social media and participate in a takeover of Save The Bay’s Twitter account.

“I feel so fortunate to now have the chance to give back to the waters I learned to swim in, and that’s why I’m so excited to participate in the Save The Bay Swim,” said Beisel. “It’s so important to protect and restore our shorelines, beaches and Bay, and this is a perfect and seamless way for me to get involved. Let’s help save the Bay for the future Olympians of Rhode Island.”

Monday, July 2, 2018

A Love Affair with Landscape

by Lorena Pugh, painter

I have worked for years as a contemporary still life artist, rethinking the traditionally narrow definition of still life. I've enjoyed a comfortable degree of success, particularly for my four-foot pears wrapped in translucent tissue. Being a mid-career artist with national or international recognition, as I am, switching subject matter is a big deal after working for years to gain a following.

But it was love. A love affair that began two and a half years ago in a rural village in France, where I painted the beautiful landscape for seven weeks. Coming home to Narragansett Bay, I saw endless opportunities to grow as a landscape painter. I wanted to paint big waves and little coves, octopi and cormorants. I reached out to Save the Bay about some kind of collaboration for a show.

I thought of Save the Bay because in the summer of 1986, I did my first swim across Narragansett Bay. That was in the early days when kayaks and wetsuits weren’t ubiquitous. You dodged ores from 100+ rowboats and shivered in your skimpy suit, but it was wonderful, and I was hooked on open-water swimming. Over the years, I have developed a deep appreciation for all that Save the Bay does to make our Bay a good place to dive into.

Supporting Save the Bay with my paint strokes as well as my swim strokes meant we needed a venue, preferably a large space for those BIG waves I wanted to paint. The art gods smiled on us, because in a matter of weeks, the director of Dryden Gallery in Providence asked if I would like a solo show in their Grand Gallery—300 liner feet of wall space for paintings I had yet to create. I said yes, and grasping the enormity of what I just agreed to, nearly blacked out.

Dryden Gallery was more than happy to share proceeds with Save the Bay and so the biggest professional undertaking of my life began.

I started painting small plein air pieces in January 2017. Plein air painting is done outside, entirely at the sight, and over the past year and a half, I have relished spending time just looking and recording what I see along the shores, observing the changes in the water and air and the migration of life around the Bay.

Over the winter, I finally got those BIG, life-sized waves out of my head and onto canvas. One is 24 feet; the other is 16 feet. And a painting of a cloud reaches about 10 feet.
I bought a nautical map of Narragansett Bay and have put stickers in areas I have painted and in areas I want to paint. It will be included in the show so guests can find where each painting originated.

Now, with the good weather and only three months until the October 6th opening, I am heading back out to paint like the wind!

I will have close to 200 paintings by October, yet there are hundreds more I would love to paint. Our Bay is so rich with life and beauty; I hope you will come celebrate that with me at Dryden Gallery on October 6 for the benefit of Save The Bay and Narragansett Bay.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Sandy Simulation

A Technology-Enhanced Sandbox Helps Rhode Island Youth Understand Watershed, Erosion and Topography

by Katy Dorchies, marketing and graphics specialist

In an effort to illuminate watershed issues, Save The Bay educators are breaking into the virtual world with their newest technological acquisition: the AR (augmented reality) Sandbox. The first of its kind in the state of Rhode Island, this hands-on exhibit and learning tool goes online in Save The Bay lessons starting this month. 

“The concept of a watershed is not necessarily as easy to understand as some of us think,” said Save The Bay Education Specialist Lauren Farnsworth. “The most important part of using the sandbox in our lessons is that students get in there and have the opportunity to manipulate the land, the rainfall, and really get an idea of how water flows.”

“We want students to understand that anything they do on land has the potential to affect all of their water resources, from drinking water and irrigation to recreation,” said Save The Bay Education Specialist Letty Hanson. 

The complete AR Sandbox structure includes a seven foot projector stand and a raised 3.5’ long, 2.5’ wide and 8” deep sandbox. A digital projector is affixed above the sandbox, directed towards the surface of the sand. While not in use, the equipment could appear simplistic; however, when educators turn the machine on, a new understanding of this exhibit comes to light.

Using a 3D camera and a video projector, the technology in the AR Sandbox works with the sculpted sand beneath it to produce a light-and color-based topographic overlay. As students shift the sand in the sandbox, the topographic map adjusts in real time, using a spectrum of colors and contour lines to bring the mock landscape below to life. The simulation adds bright blue pools to represent bodies of water at the sandbox’s lowest points, and those interacting with the sandbox can even use hand gestures under the projector to prompt a rainfall simulation.

“The AR Sandbox is an appealing blend of cool technology and get-your-hands-sandy learning,” said Save The Bay’s Lead Captain Eric Pfirrmann. “Students will be able to explore the concepts assisted by the technology, not driven by it.” 

The technology in the AR Sandbox was initially developed in 2013 as part of an open-source program at the University of California, Davis by researchers looking to improve the instruction of earth sciences. Save The Bay’s education staff first set their sights on acquiring the sandbox in 2016, and their efforts were finally realized when funding was acquired in late 2017.

Pfirrmann, assisted by volunteer Don DeLuca, began the physical construction of the sandbox in December 2017. By the following February, the sandbox was ready for its augmented reality technology. This final stage of preparation revealed the true complexity of the sandbox system, requiring the installation of three software packages, two types of hardware calibration, and the configuration of a Linux operating system. Now, the AR Sandbox is ready to be used by Save The Bay educators as they introduce students to watershed issues.

“It adds another layer of hands-on learning while helping students develop the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills that are so crucial to their success. This resource will help students develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills when it comes to their place in the watershed, and our program will encourage them to incorporate solutions to everyday challenges we face in the Narragansett Bay watershed,” said Save The Bay’s Education Director Bridget Kubis Prescott.

During lessons at the Bay Center, students will be asked to consider all of the forces at play within a watershed—from the pull of gravity and the consequences of rainfall to the complexity of tributaries—while gaining the vocabulary needed to describe coastal features. 

“Since Save The Bay’s mission is to protect and improve Narragansett Bay, teaching students about watersheds is crucial so that they can make informed decisions when it matters,” said Hanson. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Critter Tale: The Mighty Short Bigeye

By Julia Gentillo, communications intern

Welcome into my humble abode, a spacious tank for me at the back of Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium. I’m the only Short Bigeye here, but I’m not lonely at all; even in my natural habitat, I am usually by myself. Before making my way to Rhode Island, I lived in tropical waters, as my species is most populous in the Caribbean Sea, West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico.
How did you make it all the way up here from all the way down there, you must be asking? A Gulf stream current swept me up when I was young and carried me all the way to these northern waters. Once a small fish or egg is caught in the current, they really can’t escape. Believe it or not, I am not the only fish here that got caught in the current and made its way into the Bay. Some of my tropical stray neighbors at the Exploration Center include the striped burrfish, crevalle jack, scamp grouper, pinfish and the colorful spotfin butterflyfish. My fellow tropical strays and I were found by local fishermen and Save The Bay students who brought us into our new cozy tanks. Together, we make up the “Bay of the Future” exhibit.
Although finding tropical strays in the Bay is fascinating, our presence here is an indication of climate change. In the last 100 years, the average temperature of the Bay has risen four degrees. While tropical strays cannot survive a harsh Rhode Island winter, each year we have been arriving to Narragansett Bay earlier and surviving longer into the colder months. Climate change is aggressively changing the environment and ecosystems in Narragansett Bay. The “Bay of the Future” exhibit poses the important question: “What will the Bay look like in 1,000 years?” Perhaps the warming water temperatures will mean the end of winter flounder, sea stars and clams in Narragansett Bay. Or perhaps, as tropical fish like me continue to populate the Bay, we’ll outcompete the native fish altogether once waters continue to warm even more.
For now, we are able to survive the winters only from the warmth of our tanks at the Exploration Center, where we also help teach visitors about climate change. The ultraviolet light in my tank makes it difficult for you to tell, but I am actually bright red, critical to my survival. In the wild, I like to hang out around 650 feet deep. As light penetrates down into the water from the surface, red light waves are filtered out first, so I appear black to other fish. With my camouflaged coloring, I am able to sneak up on my prey and snatch them in my upturned mouth without them even noticing me. I am nocturnal, so my big eyes help me see at night.
During the day, I love to sleep in shallow rocky areas where my natural predators can’t see me. In fact, I was napping in a shallow rocky area off of Fort Adams when I was rescued by a Bay-Camper. Once night falls, I leave my safe place and scour for food with a cloak of invisibility. I think you all should come and visit me and the other tropical strays this summer at Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium at Easton’s Beach in Newport.