Thinking Outside the Books

4 student enrichment programs expanding the potential for learning.

By Maria Allen | Photography by Andrew Mariner Ayer
*Above: first photo courtesy Old Colony Montessori School; second two photos by Maria Allen

In order to prepare students to live and succeed in a rapidly changing world, educators must continually strive to find creative ways to go above and beyond reading, writing and arithmetic lessons. Here on the South Shore, public and private schools are supporting student success by nurturing robust programs that focus on science, art, engineering, mathematics and technology. They are also building relationships with community partners to mentor students and show them how skills can be used in real-world settings. Here are four standout enrichment programs inspiring young minds.

Growing Minds

A school garden is a powerful educational tool. It’s an activity that teaches children about nature, nutrition, science and math and also how to work together as a team. Students at Old Colony Montessori School (OCMS) in Hingham are encouraged to get out of their chairs and put their hands in the soil as part of the school’s organic gardening program, led by Holly Hill Farm education director Jon Belber.

The students are shown how to be caretakers for the school’s organic gardens. Armed with miniature hand tools, they receive lessons about planting from seed, proper plant care and harvesting techniques, as well as composting, soil composition and more. Being involved in the cultivation process and knowing where the food comes from often inspires kids to expand their culinary horizons and try new foods. Students can pick herbs and vegetables from the OCMS organic gardens or enjoy homegrown kale chips, potato fries and other snacks.

Each year, the school hosts a school-wide harvest in preparation for a special “Farm to Fork” fundraiser dinner. This year, organic ingredients will be delivered to the chefs at The Corner Stop in Cohasset, who will prepare a delicious meal for attendees. Proceeds from the event support the school’s organic gardening program.

Always a Place for Art

Studies have shown that art education aids in the development of creativity. Yet art and music programs are often the first things to be cut from a school budget when money gets tight. And while STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education programs have become increasingly popular, art has largely taken a backseat—until now. A new movement puts added emphasis on art education and puts the “A” in STEAM education.

One local school that is embracing this philosophy is the Woodward School in Quincy. “We’re very committed to incorporating art into our curriculum,” says headmaster Walter E. Hubley. “When you walk down our hallways you find yourself surrounded by exhibits of student work.” Last fall, the private school for girls held a grand opening for a newly renovated art studio space at Wesner Hall Art Center, located across the street from the main school. Art Educator Anna Wingfield teaches everything from drawing and painting to printmaking and sculpture in this sunlit space. Her students have made paper-cut shadow boxes based on favorite works of literature, detailed self-portraits and three-dimensional letter sculptures. Music and theater are also celebrated at the school (Wingfield also leads the school’s percussion ensemble.)

Each year, the Woodward School hosts a school-wide art show known as the “night of the arts,” This year’s event will take place on April 27th. “It’s a really exciting event for the students and it helps convey the importance of the arts,” says Wingfield.

Ocean of Discovery

Sometimes the best educational resources can be found right in your own backyard. The Duxbury Middle School’s Aquaculture Club meets once a week after school at the Island Creek Oysters headquarters in Duxbury for a hand-on biology lesson. Students learn about the lifecycle of oysters, how algae grows and keep tabs on a tank filled with tiny, baby trout for their “Trout in the Classroom” project. Founded five years ago, the Aquaculture Club aims to expose students to different fields of science, including food and environmental science. This year, the primary focus is on local food resources.

“As a science teacher, I want to make connections for the students regarding the local climate and the foods that are available seasonally in New England,” says eighth grade science teacher Suzanne Spagnoli, who runs the program together with Stacey O’Brien, a high school culinary arts and family consumer science teacher. Students learn why it’s good to source ingredients locally (like farm-fresh produce) and how the tides can influence shellfish and other ecosystems and in turn affect food production. From a culinary perspective, O’Brien teaches club members where to find local ingredients, about careers in the food industry and different ways to prepare seasonal produce and local fish and meats.

For the Love of Science

“We wanted to create an event that was more than just a science fair,” says Cheryl LG Riedel, founder of the Scituate STEAM Collaborative. Riedel founded the 501(c)(3) nonprofit (previously known as the Scituate Science Spectacular) in 2012, in an effort to create a more inclusive, district-wide science fair. Since then, the group has since vastly expanded its mission to include coordinating several STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math)-related clubs that offer hands-on learning experiences as well as a community mentorship program.

“We believe the mentorship model is particularly powerful,” says Riedel. “Students are paired with a member of the community or a high school student who provides time and access to resources they wouldn’t otherwise have.” All of these programs feed into the Scituate Science Spectacular, which is an annual event that brings students from across Scituate together to exhibit their scientific research and to learn from their peers. “The ultimate goal is not to win the ribbon,” says Riedel. “The hope is that we get these kids interested in science and keep them interested as they move ahead in their academic career, which will improve their chances of employment and also help make our world a better place.”

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