FabNewport, which promotes and offers a variety of enrichment programs for students on the island, hosted a conference on April 2 to determine how it could better serve students in the city.
“We want to expand extracurricular opportunities for our students,” said CEO Steve Heath.
FabNewport offers 16 programs for students in Newport and those in surrounding communities. With 26 community partners, under the program name “Newport Experience Program”, they have approximately 500 participating students.
Programs operate on weekends and during the summer, as well as for the few hours after the school bell rings for the end of the day.
Rachel Dewey, Deputy Principal of FabNewport, said, “Our goal is to connect our students to a wide range of experiences, opportunities and people that Newport has to offer so that our students can develop a positive outlook on life. enlightened future for themselves and develop the skills to pursue those dreams.”
The concept they seek to inject into its programs is that of “educational ecosystems”, which Heath describes as “a seamless network that overcomes all barriers” to participation. This means transportation is provided and there is no charge.
This summer, FabNewport will offer 17 programs, over six weeks, mostly outdoors, which Heath says enhances social and educational development. Programs include surfing, farming, tennis, golf, hiking, music production and podcasting. The students, about 85 from Thompson Middle School and the rest from Rogers High School, spend two weeks in the activities of their choice before moving on to another.
Each program is led by a member of Fab-Newport staff, along with a student intern assistant and two older students, known as “navigators”. Dewey emphasized that developing leadership skills in older students is a key organizational goal. She described the guiding philosophy of the activities with gently controlled spontaneity: “Let the kids riff, with direction.” During the two weeks of each activity, she said the aim was to have students take a “deep dive” to learn specific skills. However, students, or “learners” as they are called, also spend part of the day doing other activities.
FabNewport invited two members of a Washington, DC organization, Education Reimagined, to lead the conference discussions. The duo, Alin Bennett and Bobbi McDonald, emphasized diversity, equity and inclusion.
Bennett said extracurricular activities should be part of a holistic child-rearing system. It’s time to move beyond a model developed in the industrial age, he said, when efficiency and standardization were paramount, using an assembly line-like process. True diversity, in his view, is when the experiences of all students’ heritages and cultures are brought into the school environment.
Inclusion, he said, is about equally welcoming and valuing every student and their background. And equity is more than an affirmative action ideal, but a learning philosophy that promotes engagement and excitement by preparing children for a networked rather than a hierarchical society. This is not a positive action for students from traditionally marginalized communities, but a way to energize learning, he said.
The final element of the reinvented vision of education for contemporary learning and how to better engage students is that society as a whole must deindustrialize. It means ending the strict division of labour, where one adult works at one function for the entire working day. Instead, including young people as learners in the fabric of businesses and other organizations should become one of their core functions.
“Full-fledged educational ecosystems turn entire communities into schools,” Bennett said.
FabNewport’s extracurricular activities fit this paradigm. Their instructors come from businesses and other local groups that serve the various activities. For example, those who teach surfing come from local surf shops. As a result, children learn something about business and ride a wave.
Several students spoke about their experience with FabNewport’s programs. A student learned to sail and enjoyed helping young children when they boarded sailboats. Another went to local farms and learned about the animals. A girl liked to make jewelry. Another student spoke up saying he wished there was a library program.
Mothers said they like to know where their children are when they are not at school. One said her son was excited and looking forward to the next day, both for school and FabNewport activities, while another was grateful the programs were free and her child had been picked up. and filed by the organizers.
A Rogers student who has been in the program for several years is now a “navigator”. She said the relationships she has made are particularly important. The young children she has helped supervise come to her for advice, and watching over them has given her a greater appreciation for her teachers.