Norwalk, CT – The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk today announced it won the Association of Zoos & Aquarium’s (AZA) highest Education Award for its Maritime Summer Academy, a summer school program developed in partnership with Norwalk Public Schools, at the association’s annual conference in Columbus, Ohio.
With the overarching goal of leveraging the motivating power of live animals and the Aquarium’s unique resources to provide highly engaging and authentic learning opportunities, the program has transformed the perception of summer school in the community. This award recognizes its innovative design and its ability to promote conservation knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.
“The Maritime Summer Academy is just one of the important ways we support our community,” said The Maritime Aquarium President and CEO Jason Patlis. “In partnership with Norwalk Public Schools, we have transformed summer school for students struggling at grade level to be fun, educational and memorable for the students, their families, and their teachers.”
AZA represents more than 235 facilities in the United States and overseas, which collectively draw more than 200 million visitors every year. AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums meet the highest standards in animal care and welfare and provide a fun, safe, and educational family experience.
The Maritime Summer Academy was piloted in 2021 with 771 students, grades K-3. It served 1,343 students, grades K-8, in 2022, and 794 students, grades K-8, in 2023. The students enrolled in the program are considered the districts neediest both academically and financially, with free lunch eligibility 10 percent higher than the total student population.
During the five-week program, students engage in a variety of activities including animal encounters and trips aboard the Aquarium’s research vessel. Classroom math and literacy activities expand on conservation themes, and students are encouraged to learn more about what interests them through hands-on, project-based learning. The summer culminates with a night at the Aquarium for the students to share what they learned with their families.
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Dr. Alexandra Estrella said, “The collaboration with The Maritime Aquarium has been instrumental in reshaping our Summer Academy, turning it into a dynamic and immersive learning experience that goes beyond traditional summer schooling, ultimately enhancing the educational journey for our scholars. We deeply appreciate the aquarium's generosity in welcoming our families at the end of summer, allowing our scholars to proudly showcase their newfound knowledge.
The Maritime Aquarium Vice President of Education Tom Naiman said, “The Aquarium’s relationship with Norwalk Public Schools has never been stronger. Our collaboration is producing exciting innovations like this one, which are creating lasting benefits for Norwalk’s students and families.”
The Maritime Aquarium Education Manager Lauren Magliola said, “Partnering with Norwalk admin and teachers to create an authentic, hands-on summer learning experience for students has been an incredibly rewarding experience. The value this partnership provides is evident in the excitement students show when visiting the aquarium and engaging in learning experiences with our educators, and most especially in the pride students have when sharing that learning with their families at the aquarium at the end of the program.”
The Maritime Summer Academy was funded in part by Connecticut State Department of Education grants of $244,180 in 2021 and $224,879 in 2022.
Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo also won an AZA Education Award at the conference for its RIZE program in partnership with Fairfield University Associate Biology Professor Ashley Byun, Ph.D. and Vertebrate Zoology Lab students that focuses on behavioral observation studies.
THE MARITIME AQUARIUM AT NORWALK inspires 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 aquarium is home to over 7,000 animals of hundreds of species including seals, sharks, rays, jellies, turtles and meerkats. Additionally, it offers sensory-enhanced 4D movies, in-person and virtual education programs for schools and families, and public cruises aboard its hybrid-electric research vessel. The Maritime Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, and receives support from the State of Connecticut DECD’s Offices of Culture and Tourism. For more information, visit www.maritimeaquarium.org.