Penikese Day Trips are more than just a “field trip.” Natural and historic wonders abound on Penikese Island, which is a peaceful, unspoiled setting, far removed from modern distractions, where learning and discovery can be nurtured.
School trips use curiosity to foster personal connection with nature while inspiring a lifelong respect for the environment. These trips get students out of the classroom, off of screens, and out in nature.
The curriculum for any Penikese trip is customizable for each school. We support science-focused and nature-based educational themes in particular, but we have also successfully hosted classes with an emphasis on art or literature. These trips focused on landscape painting and the young adult novel, Beyond the Bright Sea (addressing the history of the leper colony on Penikese) specifically.
Student Day Trips to Penikese
Place-based Environmental Education
Field Trips begin on the water, as students ride through the waters of Buzzards Bay or Vineyard Sound on our 36-foot MV Richard S. Edwards, they are introduced to navigation and follow the route on their own laminated charts. As they pass by the Elizabeth Islands chain it is quickly revealed that they have remained undeveloped, looking much as they did centuries ago. After arriving on Penikese, students are introduced to life on the island with a guided walking tour of Penikese that includes an overview of the history, topography, animals and plants of Penikese, and the surrounding tidal and ocean environment. They explore this uninhabited island wildlife sanctuary: learning about coastal and grassland ecology, reflecting on pre-colonial, colonial, and modern use of the island, observing birds and seals through binoculars, walking the beach to examine the intertidal ecosystems, experiencing the effects of marine debris, collecting shells, touching seaweed, and turning over rocks to find crabs.
Sample Day Trip Itinerary
Depart Woods Hole dock (at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Arrive at Penikese; split into two groups that alternate morning activities
Island Tour: A natural history tour of Penikese, exploring the island's leper cemetery, leper colony ruins, cistern hill, and stone walls.
Intertidal Zone Activity; Students uncover the mysteries of this remarkable habitat, learn about the organisms that call it home, and understand the crucial role the intertidal zone plays in the larger marine ecosystem. First, students observe and record the conditions of the day as if they were field scientists. Next, students collect specimens to bring back to the larger group for identification and discussion. Together they identify species using field guides, previous knowledge, comparison, and guidance from their educator. Students discuss species diversity and abundance as related to their findings and interesting observations often lead to longer discussions about structures, adaptations, or behaviors. A broader discussion of the intertidal zone and its food web ties all these specimens and observations together.
Break for lunch and unstructured discovery time
Schoolhouse Activity Options:
Microscopy: Examine found items and/or plankton under dissecting microscopes.
Discussion: Biological niches, human impacts, climate change, marine debris and ocean plastics.
Biological Illustration: Sketching items collected or of those from the island collection.
Return to boat; depart for Woods Hole
Arrive in Woods Hole. Board buses for trip back to school.
Photo Credit: Brian Nevins / 11th Hour Racing
“I was sold from the moment I was told of Penikese's history as a
science laboratory, school for young men, and bird sanctuary.
Penikese Island is a place of exceptional beauty, mystery, and peace.
Large enough to get lost on, but small enough to have a sense of the whole,
Penikese is a point of sacred geography. Taking a group of fifteen high school kids
to this island was one of the best and most impactful experiences I have had as an educator. It was great to see how the kids flourished in this unstructured environment away from technology and normal social roles. It also provided a truly unique opportunity for me to connect with students and colleagues.”