Parents go to bat for Outdoor Ed on Bainbridge

Overnight outdoor learning camps had been a traditional end-of-the-year event for island fourth-grade students for more than 30 years. So it came as a shock to many parents in May when the Bainbridge Island School District announced that funding for the outdoor education programs would be included in cuts being made to shore up a hefty budget deficit.

But parents weren’t willing to let the popular programs become extinct.

Organizers from Blakely, Ordway and Wilkes elementary schools have been firing up outdoor-themed fund raisers in an effort to replace the $30,000 in lost district funding.

Parents and students from Blakely Elementary have already held an online catalog sale and will be selling eco-friendly tote bags and water bottles. This weekend, an outdoor gear and sample sale at the Wildernest store on Winslow Way will benefit the outdoor education programs at all three schools. Students are also looking for sponsors for a “Kids Pull Together” invasive weed pull in April.

“Everyone really wants to help,” said Ordway Parent Teacher Organization member Kirsten Fitzgerald. “So, yes, I’m confident we’ll be able to raise the money.”

The outdoor education programs are different at each school, and cost between $20,000 and $30,000. In the past the school district shouldered roughly half the cost, while parents paid fees to make up the rest.

Blakely students have taken their annual trip to the Olympic Park Institute at Lake Crescent. High school students have taught outdoor curriculum to Ordway fourth graders at Millersylvania State Park, south of Olympia. Wilkes students stick closer to home at Bainbridge’s IslandWood.

Blakely parent Kristen Brelsford said the programs teach students about environmental stewardship, but also provide a social experience that couldn’t be duplicated on a day trip.

“On an individual, and I think on a personal, developmental level, there is something special about kids being able to have dinner together, and go to bed and wake up and have breakfast together,” Brelsford said. “I think it creates a lasting bond.”

While parents hope to support the 2009 outdoor education excursions, the school district has formed a task force to look at ways of supporting the programs long term. The task force will hold its first meeting Thursday.

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