NESS in New London – Update!

Last month, we celebrated with New London Public School students as the school year came to a close. It was a year filled with in-school, after-school, and field trip programs with students all over the city of New London and we look forward to sailing programs at New London Community Boating and eco tours at Ocean Beach Park this summer.

We realize that while we talk about our New London programs all the time, we haven’t taken a deep dive into the remarkable history of our New London Initiative! Read on to see how far we’ve come and what we’re up to!

Fast Facts

Number of New London Students Served in 2018: 1,725

NLI Employees: NESS employs three full time staff and 15 AmeriCorps members (2019) to support programing in New London

Where we teach (2018): 8 locations (New London Community Boating, Ocean Beach Park, Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School, Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, State Street office, Harbor Elementary School, Winthrop STEM Magnet Elementary, and the Science & Technology Magnet High School of SE CT)

NLI Funding: The New London Initiative is funded by a combination of grants, private donations to NESS, and funding from the New London Public School District. NESS’s total cost to serve NLI during calendar year 2018 was $1.7 million.

The funding provided by the New London Public Schools in 2018 was $245,000. Of this amount, $180,000 was a federal grant Bennie Dover Jackson Middle school received that NESS was written into for services. Another $4,480 was from Science & Technology Magnet High School and was a result of a grant they received from a private foundation for NESS programing.  The remaining $60,000 came from various enrichment funding sources from Winthrop STEM Magnet Elementary School, Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School, and Harbor Elementary School.

As a nonprofit organization, NESS raises money through various events as well as annual appeals to fund the rest of the cost of NLI programing. The difference between how much it costs to run programs in New London and how much NESS receives as payment reflects NESS’s strong commitment to the New London community overall.


In 2012, NESS started its New London Initiative (NLI) which gives students opportunities to access to the water, thrive outside of the traditional classroom, gain skills necessary to be successful in education and careers, and become good stewards of their community and the environment. We use marine sciences, adventure sports, powerboating, swimming, and sailing as platforms for inquiry-based learning, personal discovery, teaching respect and responsibility for the sea, and creating connections with the community. NESS operates year-round with families, schools, and organizations in New London to provide high-quality programs that blend an innovative curriculum with exciting ocean adventure activities and safety on the water.

In 2014, NESS partnered with Ocean Beach Park and opened a year-round classroom for New London students as well as a fleet of kayaks and other adventure sports equipment. This location is utilized in the colder months as the primary location for afterschool programming and in the fall, spring, and summer to provide on-the-water experiences including, kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, and tidal creek and beach explorations. The goal of this location is to provide access and protect the incredible natural resources New London has to offer. NESS is a founding member of the Alewife Cove Conservancy and monitors the water quality as part of the Unified Water Study. Since 2015, middle school students in Camp Rotary have participated in one week of marine science and adventure sports programming at Ocean Beach Park as a component of their camp experience a continuation of their academic year learning.

In 2015, NESS assumed management of New London Community Boating at Greens Harbor Beach. NESS New London Community Boating (NESS NLCB) is a core component of the NESS New London Initiative that engages students in immersive on-the-water learning spring, summer, and fall. Our goal is to provide sailing opportunities to the youth of New London to encourage life-long learning, a healthy and active summer, and stewardship of their environment and community. NESS NLCB offers free open-enrollment sailing programs each summer to NL residents and students of the NLPS and also partners with organizations including the NL Recreation Department, the Drop-in Learning Center, New London Youth Affairs, and more to provide free programming. Since 2015, middle school students in Camp Rotary have participated in one week of sailing at NLCB as a component of their camp experience and a continuation of their academic year learning.

To sustain the growth of NESS programs in New London, the NESS SEA (STEM Education Ambassador) AmeriCorps program was created as a strategic partnership between NESS and the New London Public School District to provide STEM-based ocean adventure learning programs to underserved students. NESS was awarded an AmeriCorps grant from the Connecticut Commission on Community Service (also known as Serve CT) in 2014 for 10 AmeriCorps members to serve in New London. The program consists of academic day interventions that include classroom support, tutoring, and mentoring. In addition, members implement academic day enrichment programs, afterschool extended learning programs, and summer learning programs using NESS’s STEM based curriculum aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and the Ocean Literacy Principles. The AmeriCorps members use marine sciences, adventure sports, powerboating, swimming, and sailing as platforms for inquiry-based learning, personal discovery, teaching respect and responsibility for the sea, and creating connections with the community.

In 2017, the NESS SEA AmeriCorps Program expanded to include 16 AmeriCorps members. NESS SEA AmeriCorps members serve at five schools within the New London Public School District: Nathan Hale Arts Magnet Elementary School, Harbor Elementary School, Winthrop STEM Magnet Elementary School, Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School Campus, and Science & Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern CT.

NESS has been recognized both locally and nationally for its work in New London. In January of 2019, The Eastern CT Mentoring Collaborative named NESS as the Outstanding Mentoring Champion for promoting youth mentoring in New London and strengthening their relationship with the New London community. NESS was also named the Non-Profit of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.

In the fall of 2018, NESS was selected to participate in a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) project sponsored by the Southeastern CT Cultural Coalition and the Community Foundation of Eastern CT. This project is driven by the Minority Inclusion Project (MIP), a nonprofit that helps community organizations become structurally and systemically diverse, equitable, and inclusive. This organization-wide plan will focus on Leadership, Culture, Communication, Recruitment, and Policy. NESS was created on the foundation of inclusiveness and embraces differing backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives to advance our mission. This DEI project will help us better mirror the student population we teach, from our volunteers all the way to our Board of Directors.

NESS was recently accredited by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC).  NEASC, the oldest accreditation agency in the country, accredits high education institutions as well as a vast array of independent schools.  NESS is the first school partner program to be accredited in the country, validating the quality of our curriculum and achieved outcomes. What started out as a small community sailing program in 2002 has now blossomed into a very relevant educational partner to schools and is making a real difference in students’ lives using the water as a learning platform.

Of NESS, NEASC remarked: “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. We had a distinct sense the people who make NESS what it is regard this opportunity as a genuine and rare privilege. Their commitment will continue to strengthen this exceptional program.” 


NESS has invested a lot of time and money evaluating outcomes to ensure our programs are effective. An independent analysis of historical data from New London found:

  • – Positive outcomes of the NESS SEA AmeriCorps program: Based on pre-post surveys of 263 participants from 2015 – 2017 and post surveys of 192 participants 2013 – 2015, evaluation of the NESS SEA AmeriCorps Program identified the following positive outcomes:
    • – First-time NESS participants with the highest level of NESS SEA participation (25 or more sessions) are more academically engaged and have better on-the-water skills after NESS.
    • – Students also demonstrate small yet reliable increases in science content knowledge after the program, especially students with greater program participation.

As NESS continues to collect data on programs to analyze outcomes and determine whether we are meeting our goals, we continue to increase the rigor of our data collection and analysis process. In the Spring of 2018, a new type of survey was piloted with 8th graders at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School. This new survey design is retrospective in nature instead of the previously used pre- and post-survey model. When Goodman Research Group analyzed the data, they found positive impacts in the areas of environmental stewardship, academic engagement, and non-cognitive factors. The data from 28 students in the 8th grade at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School found that at the end of the school year, after participating in NESS programs, students felt the following:

In the area of academic engagement:

  • – 96% believed that they could do better in school
  • – 93% felt more a part of their class
  • – 89% described themselves as more interested in what they study in science

In the area of non-cognitive skills:

  • – 96% reported improved teamwork
  • – 96% felt they strengthened their communication skills
  • – 93% found increased persistence
  • – 96% found increased self-confidence
  • – 85% felt they had more self-control

Students viewed NESS as being a supportive environment, with welcoming staff and opportunities for skill-building. They were engaged in the program and had positive interactions with staff and other students.

While NESS is committed to producing quality data, one of the most significant types of data we collect comes from the comments of students and parents who have experience with NESS programs. Parents of BDJMS students have seen an impact on their students’ abilities in the classroom, interacting with others, and in their independence. Some comments provided by middle school student parents include the following:

  • – “NESS has improved my son’s math and science.” – 8th grade parent survey BDJMS
  • – “NESS has helped my son learn to speak his mind, as well as helping him keep attention to learning so that he wants to learn more than having to force it.” –8th grade parent survey BDJMS
  • – “NESS has helped my son have and share more with friends and work as a team.” – 6th grade parent survey BDJMS
  • – “NESS has helped my child really believe she can be a leader and do what is expected of her. It has provided my child with positive reinforcement and helped her enjoy her education. I’m happy that she had the opportunity to participate.” -7th grade parent survey at BDJMS
  • – “My child talks more about her future and how to achieve her dreams.” -8th grade parent survey BDJMS
  • – “He has been exposed to new experiences and has enjoyed feeling important and part of a group.” -8th grade parent survey BDJMS

Our best source of information on the effectiveness of program comes directly from students. We are always asking students for their feedback on programs so that we may enhance their experience with each visit. From students’ points of view, see below what they have had to say about participating in NESS:

  • – “Thank you for a field trip to Ocean Beach. My favorite part of the field trip was kayaking because I got to kayak for the first time.” -4th grade student at Winthrop
  • – “My favorite part of the field trip to Ocean Beach was exploring the creek because I got to see new things like crabs and periwinkles.” -4th grade student at Winthrop
  • – “I first was very scared to go in the deep end or did not swim at all, you were the one to encourage me. You taught us how to swim with and then without the kickboard. You got me ready to swim in 10 feet deep water.” -LEAD swim student
  • – “Many thanks to NESS for giving us the opportunity to go sailing, kayaking, fishing, and so much more. This was a great learning experience for the kids who attended, and we couldn’t have done it without you! The ability to acquire such amazing skills is unique to our STEM program and thank you for making this happen!” -6th grade student BDJMS
  • – “I loved when we found sea animals at the beach and you told us about invasive species. You gave us one of the best field trips ever!” -students from NHAMS

Looking Ahead

Looking to the future, NESS looks forward to working with the New London Community by:

  • – Providing safe access to the valuable natural resources along the Thames River and Long Island Sound
  • – After school programs that support in classroom learning by aligning programs to the curriculum increasing academic engagement
  • – High quality summer learning programs to prevent the summer learning gap
  • – In school support by being effective mentors and providing socio-emotional support
  • – Weekend water-based family programing including safety and stewardship outreach
  • – Role models where educators empower students to understand they have choices and a voice
  • – Creating good stewards of the natural environment who are proud to call New London their home