Newport This Week
By Andy Long | on April 14, 2022

FabNewport, which promotes and provides a variety of enrichment programs for island students, held a conference on April 2 to map out how it might better serve the city’s students.

“We want to expand out-ofschool opportunities for our students,” CEO Steve Heath said.

FabNewport offers 16 programs for Newport students and those from nearby communities. With 26 community partners, under the program name of “Newport Experience Program,” they have about 500 student participants.

The programs operate on weekends and during the summer, as well as during the few hours after the school bell rings for the end of the day.

Rachel Dewey, FabNewport’s Deputy Director, said, “Our focus is on connecting our students to a wide array of experiences, opportunities, and people Newport has to offer so our students can develop an informed Positive Future Vision for themselves and develop the skills to pursue these dreams.”

The concept they seek to inject into its programs is “educational eco-systems,” which Heath described as “a seamless network which overcomes all obstacles” to participation. That, means transportation is provided and there are no fees.

This summer, FabNewport will offer 17 programs, over six weeks, mostly outdoors, which Heath believes improves social and educational development. The programs include surfing, farming, tennis, golf, hiking, music production and podcasting. The students, about 85 from Thompson Middle School and the remainder from Rogers High School, spend two weeks in activities of their choice before going on to another.

Each program is led by a Fab- Newport staff member, with a college student intern assistant and two older students, who are called “navigators.” Dewey pointed out that developing the leadership skills of the older students is a key organizational goal. She described the guiding ethos of the activities gently-controlled spontaneity: “Let kids riff, with guidelines.” During the two weeks for each activity, she said the focus is having the students take a “deep dive” to build specific skills. However, the students, or “learners” as they are called, spend part of each day doing other activities as well.

FabNewport invited two members of a Washington, D.C. organization, Education Reimagined, to lead the conference’s discussions. The duo, Alin Bennett and Bobbi McDonald, emphasized diversity, equity and inclusion.

Bennett said out-of-school activities should be party of a holistic system of educating children. It is time to move past a model developed during the industrial age, he said, when efficiency and standardization were paramount, using a process akin to an assembly line. True diversity, in his vision, is when experiences from the heritages and cultures of all students are brought to the school setting.

Inclusion, he said, is welcoming and valuing each student and their backgrounds equally. And equity is more than the affirmative action ideal, but a learning philosophy that promotes engagement and excitement by preparing children for a networking society rather than a hierarchical one. It is not affirmative action for students from traditionally marginalized com- munities, but a way to energize learning, he said.

The final piece of the Education Reimagined vision for contemporary learning, and the way to better engage students, is that the larger society must deindustrialize. This means ending the strict division of labor, where an adult works at one function for the entire workday. Instead, including youngsters as learners into the fabric of businesses and other organizations should become one of their core functions.

“Full blown educational ecosystems make entire communities into schools,” Bennett said.

FabNewport’s out-of-school activities fit this paradigm. Their instructors are from the businesses and other local groups that serve the different activities. For example, those teaching surfing are from local surf shops. As a result, the kids learn something about business as well as riding a wave.

Several students spoke of their experience with FabNewport’s programs. One student learned sailing and enjoyed helping younger kids when they first went aboard sailboats. Another went to local farms and learned about the animals. One girl enjoyed making jewelry. Another student spoke up, saying he wished there was a library program.

Mothers said they love knowing where their children are when they are not in school. One said her son was excited and looked forward to the next day, both for school and for FabNewport’s activities, while another was grateful the programs were free and that her child was picked up and dropped off by the organizers.

A Rogers student who has been in the program for several years is now a “navigator.” She said the relationships she has made are especially important. Younger children she has helped supervise come to her for guidance, and watching over them has given her a greater appreciation for her teachers.