As I’ve noted before, times like these, days that are trying and confusing, days that invoke fear and uncertainty, sometimes lead to a light peeking through the darkness where leaders and doers emerge. One of the bright spots in these sometimes dour days is that we get to see ideas that may improve our community become events that do in fact improve our community, and with them comes the opportunity to recognize and thank the people, the visionaries that ushered and cajoled those dreams into reality.
Perhaps more than any other issue, the challenge of providing seamless and meaningful education to our young Falmouthites is both a practical and intellectual challenge in these pandemic-burdened times. Keeping students connected, to their schools, their curriculum, and to each other—against the backdrop of physical distancing and hybrid learning—is daunting and expensive. However, as some see it, it presents an opportunity.
Enter Amy Leonardi and the Falmouth Rotary Club. Perennially dedicated to living the local version of the Rotary motto “Service Above Self,” local Rotarians have long been providing scholarships, events, and donations of time, money, and creativity to augment the ongoing wonderful work of the Falmouth Public Schools and their primary sponsor of innovation, the Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS) program. When faced with the challenge of assisting with providing outdoor learning space, Amy (a long-serving member of Falmouth Rotary) and her fellow Rotarians didn’t see a problem. They saw an opportunity to make a difference.
Amy has long had her finger on the pulse of issues facing parents in Falmouth, having founded the Cape Cod Moms organization, which since 2011 has provided helpful advice, blogs, and vital information to parents on issues as fun and joyful as holiday planning and vacations, and as serious and timely as babysitting safety and post-traumatic stress. Equipped with this experience and knowledge of the parenting scene locally, Amy knew that she could be helpful in turning the challenge of providing students safe and productive outdoor time to a success story of safe, structured outdoor learning. The result is a celebrated plan that was featured on the front page of the digital version of the New York Times. Outdoor spaces, replete with stumps for sitting, tents, landscaping, and other helpful features, now provide an important adjunct to the traditional learning space at all Falmouth schools.
Amy observed that the Falmouth Outdoor Learning Committee, the official liaison between the Falmouth Public Schools and the volunteers assisting with coordinating, constructing, and maintaining outdoor learning spaces at each of Falmouth’s seven schools, has been supported by local businesses, parents, students, and a host of volunteers, from the Falmouth Rotary Club and beyond.
“This is an example of the great Falmouth community that I’ve experienced since day one,” said a very grateful Superintendent Lori Duerr, who gave all of the credit to the volunteers and organizations that made the outdoor learning project possible. “This is not my plan,” she explained, praising Amy’s passion and organizational skills in particular, noting that her “insight, vision, and energy” made these outdoor learning opportunities possible. The project has been embraced by the Falmouth School Committee and supported widely by the Falmouth community, including support from The 300 Committee, Falmouth’s land trust. Each school has a contact on the committee’s website, www.falmouthoutdoorlearningproject.com, where thoughts, ideas, and donations are welcomed. As an established nonprofit, VIPS is accepting donations on behalf of the project through a link on the outdoor learning site, and donations can be made specifically for the outdoor learning initiative. “When you listen to the teachers, they are overwhelmed with gratitude and joy,” the superintendent explained to me on a Zoom call that also included Amy and Falmouth Rotary president Paul McCadam. “This project has generations working together,” she continued, explaining that Rotary volunteers, some of them well into their senior years, have worked alongside community volunteers of all ages, making this a project that has truly brought the community together. “They are bringing joy to the kids,” she beamed, demonstrating that this is far more than a construction project—it is a community-building effort. And that effort has created spinoff efforts, attracting additional volunteers and donations, providing clothing donations for when the weather gets colder and additional ideas for safe recess activities. Amy’s uncle, who owns a company that manufactures mats, sent 800 feet of yoga mat material, providing yet another dimension to this multifaceted effort.
“I felt like I had a lot to give,” noted Amy, who juggles her time as the full-time administrator for the local accounting firm Gary M. DellaPosta, CPA; the treasurer of the Falmouth Rotary Club; the founder of Cape Cod Moms; the chairwoman of the Falmouth Outdoor Learning Committee and, of course, being a mom. Her boundless energy and evident gratitude give her the tools to do all of these well. “Kids will remember that the community came together for them,” she noted, humbly paying homage to this collaborative effort.
Giving back to create opportunities for learning is who Amy Leonardi is. With a degree in education, it has always been her focus, culminating with leading this effort that will have lasting impact on a generation of Falmouth kids. “Anything to change the world has to start with the children,” she explained to me. Because of the tireless dedication of Amy Leonardi, the support of the Falmouth Rotary Club and VIPS, and the leadership of the Falmouth Public Schools, that change has begun right here in Falmouth.