Project Narragansett Brings Teachers and Students Closer to Narragansett Bay

Teachers encouraged to apply for professional development program that includes two field experiences for their classes

Grainne Conley of Save the Bay and Donna Casanova of PPSD with a model of a longfin squid constructed by fourth graders at Reservoir Avenue Elementary School and donated to Save the Bay. The teachers for this project are Elizabeth Entwistle, Diane Frenze and Carrie Allen.

Grainne Conley of Save the Bay and Donna Casanova of PPSD with a model of a longfin squid constructed by fourth graders at Reservoir Avenue Elementary School and donated to Save the Bay. The teachers for this project are Elizabeth Entwistle, Diane Frenze and Carrie Allen.

For the last two years, Project Narragansett-Providence Edition has invited fourth-grade teachers from Providence Schools to Save the Bay’s scenic headquarters, located on Fields Point, for four days of lessons focused on one of Rhode Island’s greatest resources.

Project Narragansett, funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) B-Wet Program, also funds two field trips, including transportation, for their students to enjoy hands-on exposure to Narragansett Bay.

While Donna Casanova, the district’s science coordinator, plans to apply for additional funds to continue the Teacher Academy at Save the Bay, this is the final year of the grant. She is encouraging teachers to apply for this unique professional development program that includes land and water field experiences and is customarily designed to align with the Providence Schools curriculum.

Save the Bay was founded in 1970 with community’s desire to protect Narragansett Bay. Over the years, Save the Bay has focused on the development of a committed constituency for the Bay and professional education staff and programs in environmental and experiential education. The educational staff are recognized as leaders in the field of experiential education by their partners and the Rhode Island Department of Education. Save the Bay was also on the state leadership team for the creation of the Next Generation Science Standards, which are being piloted in Providence Schools this year.

Project Narragansett was created 11 years ago to provide professional development for teachers in experiential education. It is led by Bridget Prescott, director of education, and Grainne Conley, Save the Bay school and group program manager.

Each August, Project Narragansett invites 20 fourth-grade teachers to Save the Bay for four days of professional development in classrooms, on the Bay and on Prudence Island.  Dressed in layered clothing and armed with water bottles, sunscreen and bug spray, teachers participate in activities in Save the Bay’s classrooms, board a marine vessel for trawls to grab sediments from the bay, and learn about water quality monitoring and much more. One day is spent on Prudence Island, where teachers have an in-depth look at the salt marsh and its functions and features. On the final day, teachers work on developing lessons based on their experiences.

By working in close collaboration with Casanova, Conley reports that Save the Bay has linked Project Narragansett with the Providence Schools’ curriculum, Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, which call for the use of outdoor classrooms and hands-on experiential learning in life science. The content provided through the program is substantive and can be used not only for science lessons, but has applications for language arts, math and history.

According to Prescott, Save the Bay has a commitment to Providence Schools since both share the same community. “We want students to understand their connection to the bay,” she said. “Many don’t realize that they live within minutes from the bay and, in some cases, right down the street from it.”

The experiences have been eye-opening for teachers. “You can see their confidence, interest and vocabulary grow,” said Casanova. “By the end of the week, they have all these ideas for lessons.”

With 20 teachers participating for each of the last two years, Casanova estimates that Project Narragansett has reached more than 500 students.

“In all my years in Providence, this was the best professional development I’ve ever been involved in,” said Bridget Richardson, a fourth-grade teacher at Young/Woods Elementary School. “It is difficult to put into words exactly how much I learned during this experience. The instruction we received has given me the confidence to teach my students more about where we live and all of the amazing things going on around us.”

Donna Casanova of PPSD and Grainne Conley of Save the Bay at Fields Point, Providence.

Donna Casanova of PPSD and Grainne Conley of Save the Bay at Fields Point, Providence.

“I am excited to have been part of this experience. My knowledge of environmental science has been enhanced and deepened. I have been challenged both academically and in the field and can relay this fabulous information to our students. My students will be inspired to be scientists and advocates of their environment,” said Chris Mendonca of Vartan Gregorian Elementary School.

An integral component of the program is the funding of two field experiences for students to Save the Bay to participate in land and shipboard-based activities on Save the Bay’s research vessels. Students learn about life in the Narragansett Bay watershed, explore the rocky shore, and enjoy a shipboard “trawl” where specimens are grabbed using a large net near the bottom of the bay. They also learn about the zones of the bay, water quality and view specimens gathered during the day under a microscope.

In late March, students are invited back to Save the Bay for a “show and tell” with their families and are excited to show them their extended classroom on the bay. Students make presentations and showcase what they have learned.

“Students’ reactions have been so touching,” said Conley. “Some have said this is the best day they’ve ever had. It’s incredible to have students touching and using scientific equipment and  handling animals. They come away with a tangible, worthwhile experience.”

In the summer, middle school students can participate in a similar program, called AfterZone Summer Scholars through the Providence After School Alliance.

Project Narragansett is a model for other programs, say Casanova and Conley, partnering research organizations with schools to offer educational programs for both teachers and students and opening their facility to families.

In addition to educating students, “hopefully we are creating future stewards for the Bay,” said Conley.

“We really enjoy working with Providence,” she added. “The teachers and students are the reason why we do this.”

Applications for Project Narragansett-Providence Edition can be found at www.savebay.org/b-wet and are due at the end of May.

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