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Beyond the Classroom

By Sarah E. Murphy 

Students on Board ZephyrForty-one new and continuing projects are currently being funded in Falmouth Public Schools by Falmouth Education Foundation (FEF), enhancing the educational experience not just for Clipper students, but their teachers as well. 

From an oceanography trip for high-schoolers to introducing middle-schoolers to world language to fostering a love of literacy at the elementary level, FEF’s mission impacts Falmouth students in all seven schools, from preschool through high school, by providing educational opportunities and experiences beyond the school budget, usually inspired by their own teachers. 

Falmouth High School science teacher Cheryl Milliken and Grade 7 to 12 Science Department Head Chris Brothers were awarded a grant to fund a collecting excursion for Mrs. Milliken’s 11th and 12th grade Marine Ecology students hosted by the Zephyr Education Foundation. 

Zephyr founder Rob Reynolds recently led the group on a replication of the type of missions conducted by laboratories in Woods Hole, where the organization is also located. Mr. Reynolds collaborates frequently with Falmouth Public Schools and Falmouth Education Foundation on behalf of Zephyr. As a teenager, he received an introduction to what would eventually become his career, while working on the Marine Biological Laboratory’s collecting vessel, “Ciona.”

In addition to FEF’s support, Mr. Reynolds utilized a grant from Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank Charitable Foundation for the October 11 excursion aboard the F/V Islander. He brought the students just off Trunk River Beach in Vineyard Sound, where they dropped an underwater camera and benthic dredge, allowing them to examine and feel their findings, including sea urchins, sea stars, hermit crabs, and more.

Mrs. Milliken, the recipient of several past FEF grants, has witnessed the impact of providing students with opportunities outside the confines of the classroom. Therefore, she schedules such trips at the beginning of the school year to maximize the benefits, while also including other educational and research-based activities to be completed during their visit to Woods Hole. 

In her experience, the hands-on nature resonates with students, even those who are initially tentative about making contact with potential underwater discoveries. 

“It gives us a foundation we can reflect back on, so everyone has a shared, common experience that they understand and can remember,” Mrs. Milliken said. 

“The kids get the use of technology to touch and see marine life in the field. It’s very eye-opening for them to learn these critters are right off-shore.”

Additionally, the excursion often serves as an informal career day, when an introduction prompts an aspiration. 

“One of the aspects of our trip is that Rob not only reinforces some of the research that’s going on in Woods Hole, but he also talks about other careers beyond marine biology that the kids could be involved in,” Mrs. Milliken said. 

“I’ve had several students go on to be engineers and fulfill different, important roles in the Woods Hole science community.”

She stressed that transportation costs make most field trips prohibitive; a school bus to Woods Hole for the day is about three hundred dollars. 

Mrs. Milliken also underscored the invaluable opportunities afforded to Falmouth students as part of grant projects. After their Zephyr cruise, the group toured the Woods Hole pier, Woods Hole Science Aquarium, and the WHOI Ocean Science Discovery Center. They also collected specimens from Eel Pond under the direction of local marine science educator, Rebecca Lash, in order to study and sketch in the classroom. 

“Students don’t necessarily get these hands-on experiences or behind-the-scenes looks at what’s going on in their community. It also creates a possible future for students, for they might be able to see themselves in these careers by witnessing them firsthand,” she said. 

“Having the support of FEF provides access to world-class science, and it provides me with the ability to give ‘best day ever’ experiences to my students.” 

World Language for Middle-Schoolers 

Falmouth High School French teacher Susan Schmidt was awarded a grant with co-applicants, FHS French teacher Rebekah Sandefer, and Kristin Mills and Daniel Perea-Kane, who both teach French at Lawrence School, in collaboration with Morse Pond School. “French is Fun” is a series of workshops (which are still in the planning stages) to be held in the coming months, facilitated by the grant recipients and their FHS and Lawrence students. The goal is to offer 5th and 6th graders an introduction to the French language, through mini lessons in addition to painting, dancing, crepe-making, and other related activities, in an effort to engage them before they begin world language studies in seventh grade. 

Mrs. Schmidt, who received an FEF grant for the 2022-2023 school year to host a poetry slam artist in her AP class, appreciates that FEF is not only financially supportive of educators but that they inspire teachers to pursue ideas. 

“I like the way they encourage you to dream and go ahead and try a project you think would be good for your students. Even if it doesn’t work as well as you hope, they are supportive of you,” she said. 

In her experience, that support extends to all facets, from grant application to fruition.

“The process to apply is fairly straightforward too, so even if having it due on April 1st can be tricky with end-of-quarter or other projects, you know there will be a way to get it done,” she said. 

Books for all at East Falmouth

Tara Draper, East Falmouth Elementary School Library and Technology teacher, was awarded three continuing FEF grants, to augment the school’s Makerspace, purchase book series to engage young readers, and expand the collection in an ongoing effort to reflect the diversity of the school population, in addition to a new grant which expands on a mini grant she received in 2022/2023, funding author visits to East Falmouth.

In Ms. Draper’s estimation, each grant (some of which have also been awarded to other FPS libraries) plays an important role in early literacy, including meeting the people who write the stories children most enjoy and to which they can relate. 

“When students can put a face with the books and words, they’re able to learn even more than the story is sharing, and it helps to reinforce the love of literature,” she said.

Ms. Draper is currently working with Eight Cousins Bookstore to determine the author schedule. She credited owner Sara Hines and programming coordinator Brook Gideon for their efforts to foster a love of reading in FPS students of all ages, but particularly early readers. 

“Without our collaboration with Eight Cousins, the author visits wouldn’t be possible, and in the past, we’ve often been able to provide each student with their own copy of the book to take home with them. Not all students can make it to the public library, so Eight Cousins is an incredible resource,” she said. 

Ms. Draper acknowledged the far-reaching impact of FEF’s support. 

“Books are expensive, and a budget can go really quickly when you’re looking at new ones,” she said. 

This year, FEF is funding, “Let’s Read That Series!” enabling Ms. Draper to purchase all the corresponding titles of some of the most popular series for elementary school readers.   

“It's been amazing to witness their excitement when they know they can grab the next book and really dive in and enjoy it,” she said.

Ms. Draper also underscored FEF’s dedication to making readers feel represented, in particular through their ongoing support of “Windows and Mirrors: The Quest to Increase Diversity in Our Elementary Library’s Collection.” 

“Books are windows into the lives of children around the world, and also locally. It’s been really incredible to help create a diverse collection of books that represents every student in my school, and reflects them as an individual,” she said. 

“Without FEF, we wouldn’t have the collection we do.”

Sarah E. Murphy