LETTER TO THE EDITOR: East Boston Camps Environmental Program is ‘A Rite of Passage’

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Westford’s School Administration plans to eviscerate a generations-long tradition in Westford – 5th grade year-end Environmental Program at East Boston Camps (“EBC”) – without meaningfully taking into account input from the Westford community.

The Environmental Program at EBC has become a rite of passage to all 5th graders in the Westford Public Schools. Parents of children with physical and cognitive challenges spend a great deal of thought and effort to ensure their children are included and have a positive experience at EBC.

This week of primarily outdoor STEM-based activities includes team building, shelter building, archery, tie-dying, and a zip-line. It is a special time for our kids to make new friends in anticipation of middle school, challenge themselves in a supportive environment, and unplug and have fun in nature.

At the Nov. 18 School Committee meeting, Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery and STEM Curriculum Coordinator for Grades 3-5 Mary O’ Gorman presented their proposed program replacement – PACT. PACT is an acronym for Patience, Acceptance, Cooperation, and Teamwork. The agenda for PACT includes 3 experiences – the movies (Littleton), Boda Borg (Malden), and activities at Nara Park (Acton). The Administration claims that this new program will provide all 5th graders an accessible opportunity to practice these virtues (no STEM involved), all at approximately the same price as the EBC Environmental Program. I question claims made by the Administration regarding PACT, particularly those of accessibility and cost.

Accessibility

Accessibility and inclusion in the 5th grade year-end activities are of ultimate importance for all students. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with several Westford parents, all of whom indicated EBC is preferable to PACT. The Administration claims that PACT activities are more accessible to children.

Yet, Boda Borg and the movies both offer challenges, including a highly visually-focused and daily-changing curriculum. Boda Borg, in particular, is inaccessible to children with physical or cognitive disabilities thanks to its small rooms, complex, timed challenges, and physical obstacles. The movie is inaccessible to children with vision impairments and those sensitive to loud noises. Most EBC activities, with certain adjustments, are available to all students. EBC has upgraded several of its facilities in recent years to be ADA compliant.

Many Westford children are familiar with EBC, including those who are visually impaired. A person doesn’t need to see EBC to experience it, and EBC is not a time-pressured cognitive event.

Financial Burden

I, along with others, have requested the Administration’s financial analysis that led them to conclude 3 days at East Boston Camps costs parents and the Town approximately the same as sending all 5th graders to Boda Borg, the movies, and Nara Park. The cost of transportation alone to each of these venues (not to mention the amount of time expended getting to each place) has to be higher. Additionally, the money paid for EBC stays within the Westford community and supports our local nonprofit resource, EBC. PACT supports businesses outside of town.

While the above statements are exclusively my own, over 200 members of the Westford community recently signed a letter to Superintendent Olsen that requests re-consideration of these drastic proposed changes. Several signatories, including myself, have offered our time to coordinate with administrators, teachers, staff, and volunteers to achieve an amazing experience at EBC for all of our 5th graders.The Westford School Committee is having its next meeting on Monday, December 2 at 7.30 in Conference Room B of the Millennium Building behind Abbot School.  Fifth grade camp will be one of the discussion topics. If any of the concerns mentioned above, or others, resonate with your readers, I implore them to attend the meeting and voice their opinions, email Superintendent Olsen ([email protected]), or both.   Jocelyn Bishop, Westford Resident and Parent of Westford Public School Children