At NESS, students gain confidence and develop life skills while having fun. ©

By Todd Vorenkamp, NESS Director of Communications

As NESS – the New England Science & Sailing Foundation – approaches its 20th year serving the community, it continues to expand its reach through the region as well as broaden its educational, adaptive sailing, and adult ocean adventure programs from its base in Stonington, CT.

Personal Growth

“Sailing Summer Camp” brings to mind a stereotype of kids messing around on boats and avoiding sunburns. NESS’s summer camp program certainly includes sailing, but it offers a much more diverse summer camp menu that focuses on learning and personal growth for all participants. Not only are there camp options that teach Opti, 420, windsurfing, and keelboat sailing, there is an entire ocean adventure and marine science arm to the summer camp.

“Sailing empowers students to solve problems by sailing by themselves, or as a team,” says NESS’s Director of Sailing, Mark Zagol, “Students also learn how to persevere as they face many challenges while out on the water – helping cultivate personal growth. We watch our students and our team, from the full-time staff to our junior instructors, gain confidence in their abilities with each new day on the water building their communication skills and empowering them as leaders.”

One look at the marine science curriculum and you will see classes like Polar Seas, Wicked Water, Seacrets (sic) of the Sea, Ocean Explorers, Aquarium Phenomena, Ocean Science Rocks, ROVer Challenge, and more. Add this to fishing classes, surfing lessons, kayaking, and paddle boarding – NESS has something for everyone in the summer!

Our programs aren’t just designed to entertain students. They are crafted carefully to keep students learning during the summer months and expand their horizons. Interactive learning helps students develop personal skills and stay engaged. Providing for over 700 students ages 4 to 17 at our ocean adventure-based summer camps, this vibrant program is at NESS’s core, but NESS is much more than a summer camp as the program’s robust educational arm reaches over 9,000 students annually.

Experiential Learning

Where does NESS reach all those other students? We create transformational educational opportunities for underserved youth across New England and is partners with over 70 schools and institutions to bring STEM-based experiential learning to students of all socio-economic backgrounds. “What started as a small community sailing program has blossomed to be a very important educational partner to schools in the region and we are extremely proud to be associated with their student successes,” says NESS founder and CEO Spike Lobdell.

Using both “classrooms without walls” and, especially in the off-season, in-school experiences, our robust educational programs are unique and highly effective. In fact, NESS is the nation’s first New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accredited Partner School. NEASC is the same agency that accredits prestigious higher education schools such as Harvard University. A NEASC statement summed up the NESS mission saying, “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.”

Reflecting on NESS’s powerful programming, Eric Isselhardt, PhD, NESS’s newly appointed Executive Director of Education, says, “I am humbled by the breadth and depth of what NESS represents: an education jewel that promotes experiential STEM learning powered by the engine of its astonishing staff, friends, and partners. And, I am exhilarated at the prospect of being a part of that work, contributing to its further development and impact.”


Inclusiveness is the central core value of NESS, representing the origins of the organization as a community sailing program. The mission of allowing access to the water for everyone drives NESS, not only in the breadth of its educational reach, but also the catalyst for its programs in the world of adaptive sailing—sailing for those with physical and cognitive disabilities. Sailing has always been an activity and sport for physically able sailors, but NESS, working in partnership with Sail to Prevail in Newport, RI, has expanded on-the-water opportunities for those who never had the ability to sail before. Our Independence 20 keelboat, Sweet Caroline, has been specially outfitted with connective benches and support bars to facilitate comfortable sailing for all.

NESS has even taken its adaptive sailing model to the swimming pool where our highly trained – and lifeguard certified – staff has worked with local programs to teach swim lessons and expand comfort in the water for those who, because of their personal disabilities, aren’t usually able to participate in water activities.


Hands-on learning is the focus of the marine science programs at NESS. ©


No matter where you live on Earth, the ocean connects everyone. All NESS programs strive to teach, not only protection of the marine environment and ecosystem, and also inspire stewardship of one’s community. No matter how far people live from the water, empowering students through knowledge of how they can make their communities a better place for all.

“Stewardship is an integral part of all the work we do,” says NESS Education Specialist Nina Quaratella. “Our goal is to inspire students and communities to become passionate environmental stewards and informed decision-makers through education and volunteer opportunities.”

NESS works to provide community members with stewardship opportunities by working with partners to lead shoreline and neighborhood cleanups, all while collecting citizen science data to better monitor the impact of stewardship efforts. All of our educational programs have conservation as core parts of their curriculum, so students leave with an increased knowledge, awareness, and appreciation of the environment – creating a young army of advocates for a clean marine environment!

NESS for All Ages

While educational programs for youth programs are at NESS’s core, we offer plenty of adult programs for local sailors and ocean adventure enthusiasts that support our mission. Be sure to check the NESS website ( and social media for information on everything from foiling lessons on WASZPs to surf competitions and illuminated dusk stand-up paddleboard outings to get involved with NESS! ■