Summer camp approved by All-Island board

Full STEAM ahead for program.

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Oak Bluffs School will be the location of a STEAM camp this summer. – Gabrielle Mannino

The All-Island School Committee last Wednesday paved the way for an eight-session ongoing Island summer science camp this year, approving an enthusiastic pitch by Oak Bluffs School science teacher Leah Dorr.

Dorr had asked for committee approval of a Science Engineering Technology Art Math (STEAM) plan, and an OK to set up a revolving fund to handle finances through the office of Mark Friedman, finance manager at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

The summer program will be open to all students, and will be held at the Oak Bluffs School. Information on the program is available at STEAMMV.org.

At a meeting Monday night, the MVRHS school committee also approved it.

Clinics will focus on science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines in areas including robotics, chemistry, coding, and physics, she explained, adding that demand for the program is clear, based on past programs.

“We signed up 84 students in 21 minutes for a collaborative program with MIT and Harvard in 2015, and 56 Island students signed up for two-week clinics at the Oak Bluffs School in summer 2017,” Dorr told the committee.

Tuition for the clinics is estimated in the $250-$350 range, according to Wednesday’s discussion. Dorr said that tuition for similar clinics off-Island range from $1,500 for weekly day camps and up to $3,500 for two-week sleepaway camps. Island teachers would receive a modest stipend for leading the sessions, Friedman said. Dorr said the clinics would produce additional value in that the Island-based initiative would produce work that can be used in school curricula, and provide teachers with professional development opportunities leading to work to be used in their classrooms.

Dorr noted that scholarship money is available from a variety of public and private sources, including from the Harvard/MIT collaboration and $50 million in federal scholarship grants.

At the MVRHS school committee meeting, Dorr got a thumbs-up from the committee after a round of questioning directed at ensuring the camp, though based at the Oak Bluffs School, would be perceived as an all-Island endeavor. Members also wanted assurance that the use and cost of MVRHS staff to handle money and administration would not distract from primary tasks. Principal Sara Dingledy and finance manager Mark Friedman, who developed a self-sustaining business plan under a revolving fund concept for Dorr, expressed confidence they could handle the load.

The STEAM-based project was called a pilot program after member Amy Houghton, though a fan, said the program would produce a spate of requests for other programs. “How can we say no if we approve this one?”

Schools Superintendent Matt D’Andrea suggested the program be recognized as a pilot program, with a review of its operations in the fall.

In other business, the All-Island School Committee also got an update from assistant school superintendent Richie Smith on the school district’s ongoing process to develop an LGBTQ policy. He is facilitating discussions with Island school officials, state education agencies, and several Island community groups to develop language to be added to the school district’s antibias and antidiscriminatory policy language.

The goal is to produce policy with broad interpretation of federal Title IX language and to present an accessible and welcoming environment to the Island’s LBGTQ community, said Smith and advocates including Sarah Kuh and Joy Robinson Lynch.

Smith distributed copies of state law related to the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ students, and some best practices school districts around the country use to meet student needs.

After the meeting, Smith told The Times that Massachusetts is one of 10 states that have rejected the Trump administration push to limit interpretation of Title 9 law with regard to LGBTQ issues, and to use the broader interpretations afforded under the Obama administration.

“We are supporting the broader interpretations of Title IX, not the rolled-back [version], and we want to adapt them to local needs,” he said, noting that the LGBTQ community has significantly higher rates of suicide and depression than other student groups.

Title IX is federal legislation passed in 1972 that is intended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.

The committee also voted to amend its teachers’ professional development day format after reaching agreement with the teachers union to replace full days of professional development with separate 1½ -hour sessions held after school hours at intervals during the school year.

The committee was unable to complete its 11-item agenda after a 23-minute delay in its 5 pm starting time, tabling one item and limiting discussion of others. The delay related to Steamship Authority ferry delays, which held up the arrival of several members needed for a quorum.