Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bringing the Outside In



By Jennifer Kelly, Afterschool Program Manager

Jen has been here from the beginning. No, not the beginning of Save The Bay (that was 1970), but the beginning of our five-year partnership with Robertson Elementary School, in which Save The Bay provides marine science education to all K-6 students. The program is called Bay Partners. As the grant from the Defenders of Greenwich Bay nears its end, Jen reflects on the past five years.

At a family night to introduce Save The Bay and our presence in their classrooms, even before our first day of programming, parents were very excited about the new partnership and the experiences their children would enjoy. Then-principal Lynn Dambruch and I explained that Save The Bay’s education team would provide marine science education focused on Narragansett Bay as a local environmental resource. Students would participate in multiple, progressive programs with us that directly connect with K-12 science standards and what they are learning in their science classes. Each grade would receive up to three different classroom programs and one field experience per year. Field experiences might be at our Aquarium or Bay Center, a coastal site or onboard one of our education vessels.

“The vision for this program was to expose students to their local environment through multiple years of programming. Our hope was to give them a more lasting view of the Bay so they would go on to make good decisions and continue protecting it throughout their lives,” said Jack Early, president of Defenders of Greenwich Bay, which provided the five-year grant that has made Bay Partners possible.

Students in many grades have been introduced to live animals—some from our shorelines and others from the depths of the Bay—studying the features that help them survive in Narragansett Bay. Others learned about Bay animals a little differently—through our models, where they explored their external and internal anatomies.
The study of animals has provided an ideal segway into food webs, watersheds, habitats and climate change, since all of these are important to the story of the animals’ survival. And we try to keep it interesting. I felt very proud when Principal Dambruch told me, “Students said that meaningful, hands-on activities made learning about science fun.”

Field experiences have enhanced what the students learned in their classrooms. One student said her favorite was “going on the boat to look for seals—it was a fun adventure.” Third graders became marine scientists, combing the beach and seining the water for artifacts all while discovering it’s sometimes wet and dirty work. “This is so fun! I can change later at school,” one student said after finding herself a bit above her boots in water, and then continued on exploring for shells, crabs, fish and shrimp.
“Our hope was to give them a more lasting view of the Bay so they would go on to make good decisions and continue protecting it throughout their lives.”~ Jack Early, President of Defenders of Greenwich Bay
“The program has given great insight into what’s happening to their local environment. It has changed their lives,” said fifth-grade teacher Leo Gauthier. “Because of what they’re learning in lower grades, they arrive to fifth and sixth grade with a strong knowledge of the Bay and increased science vocabulary. The program has even helped generate better discussions in social studies.”

“Without question, our teachers felt the programs complemented their classroom lessons and aligned with the state’s science standards. On top of that, kids go home and share what they’ve learned about the Bay with their families. The PTO really values and embraces the program,” said Principal Dambruch.

More than 480 students at Robertson Elementary have received classroom programming and field experiences in our Bay Partners program. “It has been an outstanding hands-on experience for them. They are always talking about it. When we are studying current events, they often make connections and bring up examples of what they’ve learned with Save The Bay,” said fifth-grade teacher John Paolino.

One of the most rewarding things for me has been to witness the students’ love and respect for the Bay grow over the years. One student this year told me that he had a very good idea about what a watershed is—and this was two years after he learned about it. He said, “Pollution drains to the Bay. When you first started teaching here, I thought the Bay was not too polluted. Now I think it needs a lot of attention and I will keep helping.”

Every educator hopes to impact the life of a student. These students are Narragansett Bay’s future stewards. It makes me so proud to see how much they have learned and how much it has influenced their lives.