Skip to main content


Posted Date: 06/18/2021


Norwalk Public Schools K-3 summer school students will participate in sting ray feedings, expeditions on a research vessel, live interactions with turtle habitats, a “Shark Safari” program and more as part of a unique five-week summer school program thanks to a partnership with The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.


More than 700 NPS students who academically qualify for summer school will engage in hands-on academic and social emotional activities, all at no cost to the students’ families. The programs will occur at – and busing will be provided to –– Brookside Elementary School, Cranbury Elementary School, Kendall College & Career Academy, Jefferson Elementary School, Marvin Elementary School and Tracey Magnet School.


The program in Norwalk is one of 235 statewide receiving grants from the State of Connecticut’s COVID-19 recovery funds to support expanded and innovative educational opportunities this summer, especially to students from traditionally underserved communities. The Connecticut State Department of Education used a portion of its funding from the American Rescue Plan Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to provide the grants. In total, they are anticipated to support expanded educational experiences this summer for more than 96,000 students in Connecticut.


Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and Deputy Commissioner Desi Nesmith recognized the Norwalk/Aquarium summer program today in The Maritime Aquarium’s new “Pinniped Cove” seal habitat. Others attending included Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, State Sen. Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk, Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, Norwalk Superintendent Dr. Alexandra Estrella and Aquarium President Jason Patlis.


“Over the course of the pandemic, so many children missed out on classroom experiences that are essential to their development,” Gov. Lamont said. “We targeted a significant portion of our COVID-relief dollars to expand educational opportunities so that young people have more of an opportunity this summer to explore new, enriching experiences that reignite their creative energy.”


The Maritime Aquarium’s $244,180 grant funds the Aquarium’s participation in the NPS summer-school enrichment collaboration. The school district will contribute $1.2 million toward personnel costs, elementary school facilities, transportation, classroom space, supplies and teacher training. (The district also will supplement summer programming at the Aquarium for fourth- and fifth-grade students via an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund grant.)


This Norwalk program will transform the summer school experience for an estimated 730 students in grades K-3, and provide them with the opportunity to engage in marine-science experiences at the Aquarium and on Long Island Sound. Classes begin Tues., July 6. Live-animal programs, aligned to Next Generation Science standards, will be led by Aquarium educators and serve as phenomena motivating daily classes in math, literacy and arts led in the classroom by NPS teachers. Every student will participate in four visits to the Aquarium, one field trip to a coastal site, six hands-on education programs led by Aquarium educators, and, for third-grade students, an expedition onto Long Island Sound aboard the Aquarium’s research vessel. In addition, two evening open houses for their families are planned: one in late June to kick off the program, and another at the end where students will demonstrate what they learned.


“Our ambitious summer school program will give students high-quality learning opportunities through unique experiences with the many animals in our collection, along the shores of the Sound, and from the deck of our floating classroom,” said Jason Patlis, president and CEO of The Maritime Aquarium. “In partnering with Norwalk Public Schools and with thanks for the support of the State, we are able to reach all public-school students in grades K-3 who need a boost to help overcome the profound challenges of this past year.”


NPS Superintendent Dr. Alexandra Estrella said summer enrichment provides an ideal opportunity to address learning loss and challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.


“We are pleased to once again partner with The Maritime Aquarium to establish a unique learning program offering our K-3 students an immersive, hands-on opportunity to learn about habitats and animals through live exhibits and experiences,” Estrella said. “This summer program is the first of its kind in the region and we are pleased to provide these engaging academic and social enrichment opportunities.”


In a statement, Connecticut’s Acting Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker praised the summer initiatives.


“While students have fun reconnecting and socializing with peers, these hands-on, community-based, financially accessible summer enrichment experiences also will promote their accelerated learning, skill-building and exploration of new interests and postsecondary pathways,” Russell-Tucker said. “We look forward to making this a fun and productive summer every day, everywhere, for each one of our students.”


State Sen. Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk said the Norwalk/Aquarium summer partnership will involve some young students who – despite their close access – have never visited Long Island Sound.


“Today, being here at The Maritime Aquarium, we know that this is a place not only to look at cute-looking seals but it's also a place where kids can get an education,” Duff said. “Where they can learn about maritime life, and how they can play a part in ensuring that Long Island Sound is a cleaner place. ... Who knows who we're going to inspire for the future? We’re going to inspire a number of kids who hopefully will go into marine science, maybe go into engineering, who may appreciate STEM a little bit more.”


Beyond the Aquarium’s involvement in the Norwalk summer program, the Norwalk Public Library will provide reading and writing enrichment for students. Librarians will curate collections of books about each grade level’s animal of focus, and drive the books to the schools in a mobile library vehicle. Teachers and librarians will lead guided reading activities with these books, and help students gather facts and research for their culminating projects.


Additionally, Aquarium staff will lead teacher professional development in conjunction with NPS staff.


Tom Naiman, director of Education for The Maritime Aquarium, said the Aquarium is thrilled by this latest partnership with the Norwalk Public Schools.


"We're excited to provide K-3 students with a summer school filled with hands-on science that will inspire them and promote learning across the curriculum," Naiman said. "Students will visit the Aquarium to marvel at 'Pinniped Cove,' our new seal exhibit. They'll hand feed our rays, explore coastal environments and get their hands wet helping us trawl on our research vessel. After a year of disruption, students deserve a summer to remember and that's what we're planning to give them."


The program will benefit students’ social and emotional well-being as well. In small groups, teachers will foster productive interactions that center mindfulness and self-esteem, and will provide opportunities for students to express themselves during daily class meetings and breaks.


Recipients of the state grants were announced in May. Grant application materials were created in collaboration with dozens of key stakeholders across Connecticut – including leaders of summer programs – to enable the Connecticut State Department of Education to identify and support high-quality programs that are able to expand capacity for children of all ages.


Families in Connecticut that are interested in finding high-quality, community-based, and financially-accessible enrichment programs that are available across the state this summer are encouraged to visit or call 2-1-1.


# # #


Press materials are available on the Aquarium web site:

Download high-resolution Aquarium photos, 24/7, on Flickr at You also can receive specific photos via email. Contact Dave Sigworth.

An accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit institution whose mission is to inspire people of all ages to appreciate and protect the Long Island Sound ecosystem and the global environment through living exhibits, marine science and environmental education.

The Maritime Aquarium receives support from the State of Connecticut DECD’s Offices of Culture and Tourism.