By Newport This Week Staff | on August 19, 2021
By Alex Malm

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Lillian Lunson, gets a surf lesson from a staff member at gnomesurf, Fab Newport’s partner for surfing this summer. (Photo provided by Fab Newport)

When Fab Newport started “The Newport Experience” four summers ago, there were only 20 students in the program. This summer, there are 80.

Steve Heath, Fab Newport’s executive director, started the program to give students something to do in the summer. Many had never ridden a bike, gone to the beach or been surfing, for example. So, Fab Newport decided to show students what the city has to offer.

Kevin Ochoa joined the program five years ago. Now going into his junior year of high school, he is in his first year as a navigator, helping to ensure that a student’s energy is up and that everyone is safe.

“Without this camp I would’ve just been inside playing video games, watching TV, just wasting my summer,” he said. “This has given me an excuse to be outside making new friends, enjoying the amazing Newport summer. I’m grateful.”

The program is funded by the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, the Prince Charitable Foundation, the Newport County Fund-Rhode Island Foundation and Powered by Prince.

In the program, students can choose from three, two-week experiences, featuring activities like golfing, biking, exploring nature and surfing.

“We try to give them as much choice as we can,” Heath said.

While there were many positives over the past couple of years, Fab Newport had to make accommodations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of restrictions, students are now split into four “villages” to make sure they are picked up and dropped off in the same small groups each day.

Tristan Morris, who is going into her sophomore year, has been going to Fab Newport since he was 7. He said that the freedom to do different things is his favorite part of both the winter and summer program.

“It’s cool how you can create anything you want there,” he said. “We get to just have fun.”

Golf, a new offering this year, has become an instant hit, Heath said.

Danny Murphy, who will be a freshman and joined Fab Newport this year, instantly fell in love with the sport and decided to stick with it each week.

“I like that it’s challenging and fun at the same time,” he said.

Aside from playing golf each day, students do other fun activities, like going to museums, he said.

“The people in my group also make it really fun,” he said.

Through the program, students learn about activities that they can continue when they grow older. That is important, because a 2021 survey conducted by the Rhode Island Department of Education showed that as students move up in grades, school engagement goes down. For example, school engagement dropped from 62 percent at Pell Elementary School to 22 percent at Rogers High.

While there are many options for students when they get to high school, Heath said, most don’t know what they are interested in because of the lack of exposure at a younger age.

“We have to get them connected earlier,” he said. “That way, they are making good choices when they go into high school.”

To develop the two-week experiences, Fab Newport met last spring with teachers, students and community members.

“The idea is to put those most impacted at the center of the design, which is another way to increase engagement,” Heath said.

Heath said it’s extremely important for students to explore different opportunities. “We know kids love to learn, but they have to learn stuff they are interested in,” he said. “Our theory of change is that if we can get middle school-age kids out into the community and discover the places they really like to be and start meeting people, their whole concept of learning and possibility will increase.”