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Bertram Connections

NESS Helps Students Sail to Success

Imagine yourself on a sailboat, skimming the sparkling waters of Long Island Sound. Working as a cohesive unit with your peers, you take pride in your ability to gauge the wind, maintain balance, and manipulate a complex system of ropes and pulleys to cruise smoothly to your destination. All the while, you are learning important scientific principles about marine ecology and fundamental physics. “Sailing is hands-on, experiential learning that builds community and confidence,” says Spike Lobdell, Founder and President of New England Science & Sailing, an ocean adventure nonprofit that provides STEM-based education programs, on and off the water, for students of all ages.

NESS began in 2002 with fourteen children and now serves more than 9,000 students, mostly from Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. It operates year-round, offering camps in the summer and programs for schools, families and other organizations throughout the year. Based in Stonington, Connecticut, the organization sails out of multiple locations and also has “land sailors”—boats on wheels—to take its program inland to classrooms. Making inclusiveness a priority, NESS has boats for adaptive sailing and more than half of program participants receive some form of financial aid.

“Sailing is an experience that sticks with you,” Spike says. “It is problem-solving by doing, and it emphasizes communication and collaboration.” The NESS curriculum aligns to Ocean Literacy and Next Generation Science Standards, emphasizing inquiry-based learning and creating opportunities for students to demonstrate their thinking and learning. In November 2018, NESS became the first school partner program to be accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. In 2019 the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut named NESS as its Nonprofit of the Year in recognition of its educational and community contributions.

While aspiring to be an excellent partner for schools in reinforcing STEM learning, NESS also emphasizes social emotional skills that are essential for success in life—with the organization’s core values highlighting personal growth and stewardship. “We believe strongly in a growth mindset,” Spike says. “Being on a boat for the first time challenges students to step outside of their comfort zone in a way that is both safe and exhilarating. That builds confidence, trust in community, and strong leadership skills. Our goal is to make sailing available to everyone who wants to learn on the water.”

For more information about summer camps or programs for families, schools, and organizations, visit New England Science & Sailing.