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Stonington-based NESS receives major accreditation

Stonington — New England Science and Sailing has been accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, something never achieved before by a non-traditional school or college.

The organization, which is based on Water Street in the borough, started out in 2002 offering community sailing instruction. It has since grown into an educational organization that uses the ocean and getting students out on the water to teach a Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum.

With a $3 million annual budget that mostly comes through fundraising, it provides education programs to 9,000 children a year with locations across the state including New London, where it has classrooms in four schools. It also as plans to expand its offerings to Norwich, and have satellite offices in New Haven and Hartford. NESS boasts 26 full-time employees, 15 AmeriCorps volunteers and up to 40 summer employees. Half of the students in its programs receive financial aid to participate.

NESS President and CEO Spike Lobdell said that as NESS began providing more and more programs for schools, “we thought, Why shouldn’t we be held to the same standards as they are and seek accreditation?”

NESS then undertook an intensive 18-month self-examination of all aspects of its operation, which was reviewed by NEACS officials who visited NESS and then developed an extensive 55-page report.

“As an organization, we’re much better for going through this process,” Lobdell said.

In its summary, NEASC wrote wrote that its visiting team "unanimously and enthusiastically endorses" NESS for accreditation by its Commission on Independent Schools.

"NESS is an exceptional program, the first of its kind — if, indeed, there might be any others of its kind — to be a candidate for accreditation by NEASC. In their personal and professional interactions with us and with this process, NESS clearly manifested their core values — inclusive, experiential, personal growth and stewardship — and we all sensed the deep commitment of the program's leadership, faculty and staff to these principles."

It added, "We observed a dynamic and reflective program, restless for change but eager to insure it remains true to its roots. Changes in program offerings, the structure and composition of the board, constant attention to safety and health and a drive to raise the funds necessary to enhance its commitment to making the program available to all no matter their resources infuse NESS with a noticeable sense of urgency and excitement. Nothing in NESS is static and all of it defines building upon rather than "resting" on its laurels. And the laurels have been considerable. National awards, recognition and commendations abound for both leadership and staff." 

Later it called NESS a "program with goodness at its heart. Its only competition is complacency and its sole objective is to lift kids who might otherwise flounder to a platform that might give them a fighting chance."

In addition it wrote, "NESS makes a difference in the lives of the young people it nurtures — sometimes a life-changing difference and sometimes a simple moment of self-confidence gained."

Lobdell said some people have suggested NESS should run its own school, an idea he has opposed.

“We don’t want to compete with schools. We want to work in collaboration with them,” he said.

 “We’re teaching the next generation of science standards on the water. We’re integrating our curriculum into the classroom to give kids a different way of learning,” he said, while being upheld to the same standards as other great schools.

HE said that NESS believes partnership programs with unique curricula such as the one it offers “have never been more important to advancing education here in the US as students lag behind other nations in science and math.”

“Additionally, budget cuts are limiting opportunities for learning during and after school, especially on experiential programs outside the classroom. NESS’s demonstrated ability to attract funding from third party sources, and complementing those funds raised by the schools themselves, enhances the long-term viability and impact of the partnership model.”

Lobdell said NESS is also looking to advance its curriculum, especially related to advancing Next Generation Science Standards, assess the effectiveness of its programs, enhance professional development for its staff and “create a more balanced financial model between program revenue and donations for long-term financial stability.” In addition it plans to undertake a capital campaign to create an endowment for “ financial stability and liquidity.”







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