Monday, August 22, 2016

With Friends Like These: An Old Friend in Central Falls High School

By Bridget Kubis Prescott, Director of Education


Save The Bay long ago recognized that if we are to fulfill our mission to protect and improve Narragansett Bay, we’d have to reach deep into a new community of supporters—the hearts and minds of young people, school children, who would one day become keepers of our beautiful Bay. Our education program has since evolved from isolated classroom presentations into rich integrated experiences with entire grades, schools and school districts. The success of these programs is rooted in strong partnerships that begin with relationships with individual teachers and grow over time. 

An Old Friend in Central Falls High School 
Our nearly 15-year partnership with Central Falls High School paints the perfect picture of the evolution of our school-based education programs. In 2002, Central Falls High School AP biology teacher Joanne Greenleaf knew her students needed the kind of education experience that would generate excitement in learning, get them out of the classroom, and give them opportunities to learn with their hands rather than textbooks. She pounded the pavement to raise money on her own, through friends and family, and even a stranger at the grocery store, to bring her classes out on a marine science cruise aboard our education vessel M/V Alletta Morris

This single experience was life changing for Greenleaf’s students, and it inspired the way we approached partnering and working with teachers. It was the seed that has evolved into one of our signature education programs—Narragansett Bay Field Studies. Greenleaf has since left Central Falls High School but the legacy of the program and partnership she began with us has continued in the work of other teachers and school administrators. 

“The field studies program with Save The Bay gave us such strong evidence of the positive impacts of environmental education that it became the foundation we used to develop the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Academy at Central Falls High School,” said Joshua Laplante, past principal of Central Falls’ STEM Academy. “The Save The Bay partnership was prioritized not only at the school level, but also at the district level, because of the great influence it had on student development,” he said. 

The Narragansett Bay Field Studies program has become a formally adopted and integrated part of the Central Falls School District curriculum, complete with an internship and summer camp for high school students. AP biology classes meet with Save The Bay educators at Lonsdale Marsh as many as 18 times each school year to evaluate four big indicators of ecosystem health. They collect water samples and test for dissolved oxygen, salinity, nitrogen and phosphorus levels and more. They put on waders and boots and head into the river with kicknets to see what crustaceans, worms and aquatic insects are present at different times of the year. They record the different types of vegetation, aquatic animals, birds and land mammals they see. And they assess human impacts by measuring sound pollution and trash found in the area. 

“It’s one thing to teach environmental science with case studies, simulations and videos, but to have students knee-deep in water in their own community, testing it for nutrients and pollutants, and analyzing the data they collect makes the level of awareness and impact so much greater,” said science teacher Laura Stanish.