WESTERLY— After 10 years of providing sailing and science education to residents of Stonington, the New England Science & Sailing (NESS) non-profit organization is expanding its programming into Westerly.
Wuskenau Ocean Adventures, a new satellite program that launched June 30 at Wuskenau Town Beach and Winnapaug Pond, combines kayaking, snorkeling and other water activities with marine science and ecology education for children ages 7 to 15. Each week-long session —with a total of seven sessions—offers a different theme within this subject area, giving Westerly youth the chance to explore the aquatic offerings through the three-hour morning classes (for ages 7 to 10) or those in the afternoon (ages 11 to 15).
“We’re all about making science real to these kids, and helping them to connect to the environment in a way so they’ll want to protect it,” said Cindy Nickerson, executive director.
Nickerson explained that bringing this program, a version of which is already offered in Stonington, to Westerly was a “natural extension” of the organization’s expansion.
“Right now, we get mostly Connecticut residents,” Nickerson said. “This is a way to reach out to and serve the kids and families of Westerly.”
The satellite program is not the organization’s first foray into Westerly, however. NESS began offering a weekend surf camp at Westerly Town Beach three years ago, through a partnership with the Westerly Recreation Department. It was the success of this camp that inspired the creation of additional services in the Westerly area, according to Mistral Dodson, program director.
“Westerly Rec has been very supportive of us,” Dodson said. “We both thought there was a lot of potential up at the Westerly beaches, and that this would be another great way to get kids out on the water there.”
While NESS has organized the program — including the purchase of about $5,000 worth of new equipment such as kayaks, life jackets, snorkels and hydrometers — the recreation department will provide storage space at the town beach, and access to the kayak launch site from the pond side parking lot at Wuskenau. Additionally, parents transporting their children to the classes will be allowed to stay on the beach without a parking pass for the time period of the class, according to Nickerson.
NESS also hired two new instructors for the sessions, both of whom are certified in kayaking and lifeguarding with backgrounds in marine science and education, Dodson said. Each session is capped at 12 students, allowing for a 6-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.
“We wanted to start out a bit smaller, but if we see more demand for our programming, we’ll absolutely consider adding instructors in the future,” Nickerson said.
Dodson noted that while the first few sessions have slightly lower attendance than she had anticipated, she was hopeful that later sessions would have increased participation.
“I’m very confident that the word about this is going to spread like wildfire,” Dodson said. “It’s a great program in a great location, and we’re really excited to be there.”
Dodson echoed Nickerson’s comments on the need for water and marine life education as taught through the classes.
“A lot of kids who live by or come to the coast with their parents don’t necessarily understand how the ocean works, or why it’s so important to protect,” Dodson said. “The programs are also great for teaching kids independence, and learning to embrace new opportunities without being afraid.”
The Wuskenau Ocean Adventures program runs from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. through the week of Aug. 18.
For more information on each week’s theme, or to register, visit nessf.org