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HHC Partnership with NESS Will Bring the Ocean to Natchaug Students

September 03, 2021

New England Science & Sailing (NESS), based in Stonington, has received a $225,000 three-year grant from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that will expand environmental education opportunities for students enrolled in Hartford HealthCare’s Natchaug Hospital clinical day treatment schools.

As part of a three-year, $200,000 partnership with Hartford HealthCare, NESS has been providing educational opportunities for students at two Natchaug schools, in Old Saybrook and Norwich (seventh through 12th grades). The NOAA grant will allow NESS to expand its program to a third school, the Green Valley School in Franklin, which teaches elementary grades. Natchaug Schools provide special education services for students whose social, emotional or behavioral health problems prevent them from functioning successfully in a regular school environment.

The program expansion was announced Friday in a press conference held outside at the Joshua Center Thames Valley Clinical Day Treatment Program in Norwich. Lamirra Simeon, principal of the 7-12 grade school, welcomed Congressman Joe Courtney as well as NESS and HHC representatives.

Simeon explained that last year, despite the COVID restrictions in place, NESS teachers were able to bring the program to students at the school in Norwich. “They brought the science to us,” she said. “We used the environment around us. They dissected squid right here on the lawn. They built boats out of recycled materials. They designed wind turbines and generated electricity. They even had a regatta. NESS provided experiences to these children they would not normally have access to.”

A significant part of the grant also funds a year-long research component during which alternative school teachers from around the region will come together to explore and write experiential environmental learning best practices and create a toolkit that any teacher across the country may use with their students.

The NESS program provides students with field studies, on-the-water experiences and classroom learning. NESS will use the Natchaug program as a prototype to incorporate this type of experiential learning for at-risk alternative school students nationally.

[caption id="attachment_35705" align="alignright" width="350"] Eric Isselhardt, PhD, President of the New England Science and Sailing Foundation.[/caption]

“We are an educational organization,” said NESS President Eric Isselhardt. “It just so happens we do it through sailing, power boating and marine science. We are not just out here doing programs and having fun, although that’s what it looks like. With this grant we will work with the Natchaug teachers to create best practices for this type of experiential learning for students in alternative schools. Nobody is doing that. We will create a tool kit for teachers nationwide to use.”

Courtney took a moment to thank the audience of Hartford HealthCare colleagues for their work throughout the pandemic, ranging from the care of COVID patients to testing and vaccinations, to the care of those with mental health needs.

“I appreciate and admire what you do,” he said, speaking to Simeon. “Your connection with these kids, and your work with them, is so important. This partnership will be life-changing for these kids.”

David A. Whitehead, Hartford HealthCare Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer, was the first to bring NESS and HHC together, from his longtime friendship with NESS founder Spike Lobdell. He noted that Natchaug runs six clinical day schools, educating more than 100 children annually. He said strategic partnerships like the one formed with NESS are key to their programs.

“I could not be more proud,” he said. “We are not only making a difference for our students, but this will have an impact nationally on students.”