Lighthouse Charter School Continues Quarter-century Back-to-school Tradition

By: Susanna Graham-Pye

Topics: Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School

Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School students visit the Cape Cod Fine Arts Museum. COURTESY PHOTO

EAST HARWICH – While many middle schoolers across the Cape tackled their traditional back to school routines, eighth graders at the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School boarded buses and vans and hit the road for a first day field trip.

This excursion marks the 25 time educators at the school have launched students’ final year at CCLCS with a trip into the community with visits to the Cape Cinema and the Cape Museum of Art. 

After the short trip from Harwich to Dennis, students filed into the Cape Cinema, seated themselves and tipped back to stare up at the ceiling’s 6,400-square-foot mural, designed by Rockwell Kent. Eric Hart, the theater’s owner, explained how the work, titled “The Heavens,” and the stage apron in front of the silver screen, as well as the beautiful sunburst panels that serve as a curtain for the stage, were all embellishments to a brand new kind of entertainment space—a movie theater.

“No one quite trusted that this would succeed, that having people watch movies would actually make money,” Hart said. The theater, which fell upon hard times in the 1980s until Hart purchased it and carved out a niche as an independent film and entertainment center, is a unique cultural resource—one of the Cape’s very first movie theaters and home to the world premier of “The Wizard of Oz,” a fact that caused a buzz of comment among students.

From there, students walked to the art museum where they participated in a series of activities, including writing, sketching and following prompts to find various details in artworks throughout the building.

“I liked it a lot, that this is what we do,” said Myles Jones.  His friend Corbin Young agreed, adding that he thought “other students at schools probably think we’re pretty lucky.”

Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School, a sixth through eighth grade public charter school, was among the state’s first charters and opened its doors in September 1993  . The school moved from its original location in Orleans to Harwich but still treasures many perennial rites that have built its strong culture and community.

Bringing education beyond its walls is an integral part of the school’s mission, explained school Director Paul Niles. The school works hard, Niles said, to tap into the many unique resources, both natural and creative, on the Cape. 

“As the last year at CCLCS, one theme of the eighth grade is to serve as a ‘trampoline for life,’ catapulting kids into their post middle school lives,” Niles said. “To this end, we do our best to work with as many community partners as possible and to provide kids with a wide diversity of experiences.”

Choosing to focus on art on the first day of school also “drives home the point of art as central to our lives,” Niles added.

For the school’s art teacher, Debra Greenwood, the first-day field trip “really enforces that we are serious about our mission to let students learn through experience and the process of discovery. 

“There are so many wonderful cultural resources on the Cape,” Greenwood said. “Many students have never been to this museum, or an art museum, it is gratifying to watch them enjoy it.”

In addition to the first-day field trip, eighth graders hike in the White Mountains, participate in a school-wide overnight at Cape Cod Sea Camps, learn about democracy in action at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate and journey to Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, and Hershey, Penn.

“This first trip gives kids the opportunity to prove to us that we can trust them in the outside world,” Niles said. “As such, we use the trip to grade kids' performances and discuss adjustments that might need to be made on higher stakes trips like the White Mountains. The field trip standard is that every person we interact with needs to say that this is the best group of students they have ever worked with.”

“We are so pleased to be able to work with Eric [Hart] and [museum director] Benton Jones ,” Greenwood added.