“We are on a journey to make access and achievement gaps extinct in Boston, and Thompson Island is a key partner in our work.”

— Dr. Carol Johnson, Former Superintendent, Boston Public Schools

A common path to inspire and unite.

In partnership with Boston Public Schools, Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center’s Connections program aims to close the achievement gap that exists among students of diverse backgrounds. Integrating Massachusetts curriculum frameworks into hands-on field experiences, the program combines collaboration and communication skills with hands-on learning in the natural world to create opportunities for success in school, in future careers, and in the community.

Using the unique setting of Thompson Island and the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park area as an outdoor classroom, students explore, discover, navigate, research, hike, and climb as they work together to overcome challenges, solve problems, and inspire each other on a path towards excellence.

Program Models

School Year Connections

The School Year Connections program is a sequential learning initiative integrating classroom science lessons with on-island experiences that progress from season-to-season, and year-to-year, for grades 5 through 8. Thousands of Boston Public Schools middle school students journey, each year, to Thompson Island in an effort to close the opportunity and achievement gap. By providing students with a new environment and unique experience, outside their comfort zone, Thompson Island Outward Bound ignites the curiosity of Boston’s youth, and allows them to re-imagine what is possible.

Skillfully guided by their instructors, students explore the wide variety of ecosystems found on Thompson Island from the tide pools to the forests. During hands-on field lessons they examine, investigate, and develop ideas critically and scientifically while fostering a sense of their own capabilities. Small group sizes allow students to build meaningful connections with their classmates and make it possible for instructors to provide support to students when they need it.

Summer Connections

Staffed by a dynamic team of Thompson Island Outward Bound facilitators, certified Boston Public School middle school teachers, and National Park Service Rangers, the Summer Connections program is a five-week daily summer learning program on Thompson Island that blends academics and enrichment activities for rising 5th graders from Boston Public Schools.

Students are led through exciting activities designed to help them grow as scholars, leaders, and scientific-thinkers. They spend the morning becoming experts in different ecosystems and organisms in the classroom and afternoons exploring these concepts through hands-on field activities on the island. When they’re not investigating the salt marsh, groups can be found playing teamwork building games, making beach art, and climbing elements on our ropes course.

Small group sizes help students grow academically with 1-on-1 support from educators, and allow them to build meaningful and lasting relationships with their peers while they collaborate on projects and overcome challenges together. The program provides free transportation, breakfast, lunch, and snacks every day.

Here is a list of eligible schools and grades:

  • Donald McKay K-8 School: 5th into 6th grade
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt K-8 School: 5th into 6th grade
  • Martin Luther King K-8 School: 5th into 6th grade
  • Neighborhood House Charter School: 5th into 6th grade
  • Dr. Williams W. Henderson Inclusion School K-12: 5th into 6th grade
  • Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot K-8: 5th into 6th grade
  • William Monroe Trotter Innovation School: 5th into 6th grade
  • Mario Umana Academy K-8: 5th into 6th grade
  • Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School: 6th into 7th grade
  • Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School: 6th into 7th grade
  • Dearborn STEM Academy: 6th into 7th grade

The goals of the Connections program are to:

  • Improve student achievement in math, science, and English language arts.
  • Develop social and emotional skills to help students succeed in school, in community, and in life.
  • Increase student interest in professional and vocational careers, including STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries.
  • Develop active and informed citizens who are ready to take responsibility for creating a more sustainable world.

Course Area

Thompson Island is one of the largest, most accessible and most ecologically diverse islands in the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park area. With 204 acres of undeveloped property, the island has mature forests, meadows, freshwater and marine wetlands, salt marshes, and a variety of important geological features. Amenities include a formal school campus complete with dormitories, dining hall, classrooms, lab space, library, auditoriums, gymnasium, challenge courses, and a 62-foot climbing tower.


Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center staff work closely with Boston Public Schools teachers and administrators at each partner school to design field expeditions that reinforce academic content and align with Massachusetts state curriculum standards. Following each expedition, teachers and instructors integrate lessons and experiences from the field back into the curriculum and classroom. Remote sensing technology provides a means for students to continue island observations and analysis.

The National Park Service manages the research on Thompson Island and is a partner in engaging young people in scientific learning expeditions. Connections key partners include: the National Park Service, Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park, Boston Public Schools (BPS), Boston After School and Beyond, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

Evidence of Success

Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center has five years of evaluations that demonstrate the superior performance of our Connections program. Research from PEER Associates reveals that participating youth have a more concrete grasp of academic concepts and principles after completing a Connections module. Confidential teacher interviews indicate that teachers strongly believe Connections help them achieve both academic and social-emotional growth in their students. Independent evaluation of the Summer Connections program has demonstrated consistently superior performance in both academic and social-emotional domains.
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“The work on Thompson Island shows how important learning in the real world can be for young people. More schools should partner with Thompson Island education center… and look to the work on the island as an example of how teaching to the test can be done productively.”

— Boston Globe Editorial