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Expanding Horizons

Expanding Horizons: Eighth Graders Visit Cuttyhunk Island

By Sarah E. Murphy 

 Students wearing waders standing in waist-deep harbor water, holding large yellow bucketsThe 2022-2023 school year ended on a high note on the high seas for the eighth-grade class at Lawrence School, who were treated in May to a field trip to Cuttyhunk Island, funded by Falmouth Public Schools. 

Students spent the day engaged in hands-on activities facilitated by the Cuttyhunk STEAM Academy, visiting education stations around the island, to learn about its history, geology, and ecology. 

Falmouth Public Schools funded the trip, chartering the Sandpiper of Falmouth Marine for the excursion, which required trips on multiple days in order to accommodate all the students, teachers, chaperones, and learning partners. 

FPS Learning Partnerships Specialist Carmela Mayeski organized the trip, and since the closest ferry to Cuttyhunk departs from New Bedford, she researched the price of a private charter from Falmouth. After a few phone calls, she contacted Falmouth Marine, and manager Jay Kehoe offered to make the trips for Falmouth Public Schools at cost, resulting in a significant reduction in the price of fuel and the overall expense. 

As the students enthusiastically boarded the Sandpiper for departure from Falmouth Harbor, many of them immediately headed to the open-air decks, allowing them to take in the breeze and the full experience of the nearly hour and half ride to Cuttyhunk, the outermost of the Elizabeth Islands, located in between Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound.

The seemingly endless expanse of blue sea eventually parted, as Cuttyhunk’s picturesque fish dock and marina came into view. The students were greeted by Michelle Carvalho, program director of the Cuttyhunk STEAM Academy. Ms. Carvalho explained that there are presently no children living on island, therefore the tiny schoolhouse has been repurposed into an educational outreach program to serve visiting school districts through overnight stays and day programs. The academy leverages the island’s resources to provide innovative and interactive learning opportunities set against a unique backdrop. 

Kitty Hendricks-Miller, Indian Education Coordinator of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Education Department, was among the Falmouth Public Schools learning partners who accompanied the students to the island. Ms. Kendricks-Miller came equipped with several artifacts to illustrate Wampanoag daily life in the 17th century, including animal pelts, musical instruments, and handmade tools for hunting, gathering, and cooking, which she displayed on a table for the students to hold and inspect. Ms. Hendricks-Miller also engaged in sacred songs, and invited the group to sing and play along using the instruments provided.

The interactive learning continued as the students donned chest-high waders for a lesson in marine ecology. Under the direction of Ms. Carvalho, they walked into the chilly, late spring water with large collecting buckets to investigate the connection between climate change and human impact in relation to water clarity and the health of eel grass.

For Beth Keating, an eighth-grade teacher at Lawrence School, who was “in the weeds” with her students, also wearing waders, it was rewarding to watch them express their interest while showcasing knowledge about the subject matter. 

“I was so impressed by the hands-on learning opportunities, and how excited the kids got when they were able to see and touch everything,” she said. 

“They know a lot of the answers to these questions, but to be physically in the eel grass when talking about environmental changes, it impacts them more,” she said. 

Molly Keefe was among the students in Mrs. Keating’s group. 

“It’s exciting. It’s a good experience,” she said. 

“The wading is really fun, and it’s fun to learn new stuff about the island.” 

Lilly Karl also enjoyed the tangible exercises.

“I love how it’s hands-on, and we got to learn all about the different ecosystems here,” she said. 

Kinleigh Mohan enjoyed being exposed to a new place, as they had a chance to take in the unspoiled scenery while walking to each learning station, and during a picnic lunch before heading back to Falmouth.

“I think it’s so cool that we get to go to a different environment because this island and the Cape are totally different experiences, and I think it’s cool to learn about the nature around here, and the difference from there and here,” she said. 

Colin O’Brien agreed. 

“It’s pretty cool being here. It’s definitely different from Cape Cod,” he said. 

Ms. Carvalho emphasized the importance of getting students out of the traditional classroom, not just for educational purposes.

“I think in general, children need to make deeper connections with the world around them. How do we do that? We work in it, we live in it, we explore it, and we play in it. I really want kids to make those connections in nature and be inquisitive, but I also want them to take some initiative and do some research, and study and follow through with that learning on their own,” she said. 

“I think this is one way to get them into the field and interact with the world, and hopefully, they’ll take this home with them and continue to learn and grow.” 

Lawrence School Assistant Principal Derrick Zarra, who moved to Cape Cod from Pennsylvania, was just as excited about the trip as the students. He believes it's a memory the Bulldogs will carry with them long after high school. 

“I’ve heard so much about this place, I almost wondered if it was real or not," he said.

"These kids will be able to look back one day and say, ’I went to Cuttyhunk when I was in eighth grade.’ It’s so great that we’ve been able to give them this experience."

Carmela Mayeski credited Jay Kehoe of Falmouth Marine for generously offering Falmouth Public Schools a reduced transportation rate. Otherwise, the cost would have been prohibitive. 

“For some of these kids, this isn’t just the first time they've been to Cuttyhunk, it’s the first time they’ve ever been on a boat,” she said. 

“We’re very grateful to Mr. Kehoe for making this possible.” 

Sarah E. Murphy