An outpost for education
June 9, 2008 · Updated 1:52 PM
In the Bog Treehouse, a fairy-tale turret secured to one of the largest Douglas Fir trees on the campus, elementary school students from Portland sat in a circle writing snippets of poetry inspired by their four-day visit.
This place reminds me of nature, and what things should be like, not what they are like, said one.
You cant count how much green is there, another offered.
This place reminds me of a sanctuary, a third said.
The IslandWood outdoor education center, nestled on the south end of Bainbridge off Blakely Avenue, does indeed constitute a sanctuary: 255 acres of woods, trails and water punctuated by miniature classrooms like the Bog Treehouse; the Learning Tree, suspended over a culvert; and the bird blind, which abuts a pristine, otter-frequented marsh.
Straight out of a childs dream, these spaces embody IslandWoods gestalt, a mission to deliver hands-on outdoor education both to children and adults, placing primary emphasis on learning in natural settings with the hope of inspiring lifelong environmental stewardship.
Toward that end, the center has since 2001 built its roster of educational offerings to include not just overnight programs for youngsters, but also a residency program for 25 graduate students in education and environmental studies; leadership development opportunities for community groups; professional programs for teachers; and a core overnight meeting space for the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.
As inviting and enriching as the outdoor spaces are, though, visitors who now include kids from 65 participating schools and 25 graduate residents cant sleep there. Thats why IslandWoods core campus exists, a cluster of meeting spaces, three lodges, a classroom, a library and graduate housing.
Now, the cluster needs to grow.
The bottom line is that were full, IslandWood Executive Director Ben Klasky said. And were sold out when it comes to our kid programs.
In July 2006, IslandWood launched the silent phase of an $8 million capital campaign to raise funds for the construction of a fourth lodge, a larger classroom, a dedicated graduate classroom and housing for six additional graduate students, all with the goal of serving 1,000 more students per year.
A significant portion of funding thus far has come from foundations, including $500,000 each from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a $1 million grant from the State of Washington and various private gifts.
This weekend, with just over $6.1 million in hand, IslandWood will open the campaign up to the community with an afternoon of information, exploration and yes, education.
Because despite its rich offerings and large number of visitors, IslandWood maintains an air of mystery in the community, one that spokesperson David Hunting thinks may arise from that same sanctuary-esque state that makes the place special.
That (feeling) is probably part of the reason for islanders wondering, Whats really going on? What exactly are they doing in there? Hunting said.
Klasky acknowledges that while IslandWood is fulfilling its educational goals for visiting students, theres still potential for growth in community outreach.
The feedback is that the programs needed to change to better meet the needs of the community, he said. Weve learned some things along the way. When you think of the larger Puget Sound community, everyone has been pleased that weve saved this huge chunk of land, and that were also (educating) some of tomorrows leaders. But over the last three years, a few things have evolved.
Klasky is referring to the growth of year-round free programs open to the community such as the Fall Family Weekend, the Mochi Festival and Howl-oween, along with the summer Parenting in Nature series, film showings, and talks by scientists and naturalists.
We realized that there are a lot of families in the community, and its okay to have larger public events, Klasky said. Also, weve learned the role we can play in helping steward and educate about environmental issues.
Local kids are also getting the benefit of IslandWood visits; the center has established day programs with Blakely Elementary School, Sakai Intermediate School, Carden Country School and The Island School as well as an overnight program with Wilkes fourth graders.
Capital campaign manager Allyson Brown noted that Saturday afternoons event is not a fund-raiser per se, but rather, an opportunity for residents to explore the school, which in turn will foster a growing community presence.
By creating awareness of what were doing, we absolutely invite the community to participate in the continuation of this legacy, Brown said. We want to receive gifts from people who are moved....but the important piece is the long-term engagement.
IslandWood will host an informational afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 2. Community members are invited to get an overview of the expanded campus from Mithun architects; take a walking tour; take part in Art Studio activities and enjoy treats from the sustainable kitchen. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-7031.