The red and yellow kayaks slid into the water the moment that the girls got permission to paddle off. With the late October sun shimmering off the water, the small flotilla quickly put Onset Beach behind them as they headed toward Wickets Island and another after school adventure.
The half-dozen girls paddling out into the protected harbor came to the Onset Bay Center through the Coalition’s partnership with the Wareham Boys and Girls Club and the Beyond School Time office of Wareham Public Schools. The relationship, which began several years ago, took on new life this summer with the completed renovation of the Onset Bathhouse, which now serves as the headquarters for the Coalition’s programs in Onset.
Despite the challenges presented by the global pandemic, the Onset Bay Center hosted 182 children in a rotating series of weekly programs during the summer and then launched a new set of after-school offerings, ranging from kayaking and stand up paddleboarding to fishing and coastal explorations of the beaches and marshes that border the bay. The majority of the children who participated came to the center through its community partnerships.
“We are so fortunate to have had a partnership with the Buzzards Bay Coalition for over 10 years,” said Jane Fondulis, who is Wareham school’s director of the Beyond School Time office. “This year, due to COVID all programming became remote. We were fortunate that BBC was able to continue our program over the summer and into the fall in person. The BBC programs are engaging and exciting for all our students.”
Of course, the Coalition did need to make adjustments to its programs as a result of the pandemic. The number of students able to participate was reduced to 10 or less, depending upon the activity; mask-wearing was required; and an intensive disinfection procedure was implemented, among other things. And the partnerships with the Wareham Beyond School Time office and the Boys and Girls Club proved to be key in directing students to the Center’s programs.
“It’s so great to see the kids having fun,” said Katherine Garofoli, director of the Coalition’s Onset Bay Center. “And through the schools and the Boys and Girls Club, we are reaching kids who do not have regular access to activities on the water, so we’re breaking down barriers and enabling more people to appreciate our Bay.”
The programs that the Center offers emphasize getting outside and gaining hands-on experience while mixing in a range of complementary lessons on marine biology, ecology, weather measurement, map reading, meditation and mindfulness. The late fall kayak excursion to Wickets Island, for example, started with mapping a safe route to the destination and measurement of current weather conditions. Once safely on the island, the girls spent five minutes focusing on the sights, smells and sounds of life in the clearing at the island’s top and then sharing their observations round-robin-style.
Similarly, sessions on quahogging included a discussion of what the mollusks need from the environment to survive as well as their role in the ecosystem. “We’re taking a holistic approach to understanding how marine animals function in the water, why they are important to us and why they are important to the health of the bay,” Garofoli said. At the same time, they are out in the Bay, learning how to dig for quahogs.”
“What matters most to us is that the kids are having fun and building their confidence to get outside and explore in creative ways,” Garofoli said. “Each session, the kids are beaming with excitement over the day’s activities and they are so excited to try something new.”
That excitement can be seen on a nearly daily basis by visiting the Onset Bay Center’s Facebook page (@OnsetBayCenter), which features snapshots of activities and videos of the kids in action. That enthusiasm also was on display earlier this month when the Center held a Saturday open house in which students visited with their families to offer their feedback on the programs.
“We met with each family individually and we invited each kid to lead their family through one of the activities they loved,” Garofoli said. “During the open house, we were able to talk with the entire family about our plans for the winter and moving forward, looking ahead to next summer.”
One parent sent Garofoli a note afterwards: “Our kids are absolutely loving this program. I cannot thank you enough. They have never experienced anything like this, it’s such a treat for them. They are so interested and excited to learn and go be with you all every week. They talk for a full hour about their experiences and what they learn after they leave you all!”