Putting best selves forward

Published on Thu, Aug 23, 2001 by Laura Thoren

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Putting best selves forward

By Laura Thoren

Seeing kids smile so much it hurt, was the focus for teacher Barb Montfort at the award ceremony for the Best Self summer learning program Thursday at Blaine Elementary.

The ceremony capped the eight-week program which used service learning to involve children in the community. Students received various awards including being the hardest worker, being the most kindhearted, the best friend and having the most leadership potential during their work on projects. This year, projects were focused on the themes of community and water conservation.

A goal of the program was to provide a family atmosphere, Montfort said. Students who participated ranged in age from 6 to 15 years old, and varied in their abilities and backgrounds. All students were encouraged to include everyone and to create a positive atmosphere.“We focused more on the kids well being,” Montfort said

Best Self ran Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.to 4:30 p.m from mid-June to mid-August at Blaine Elementary . The program provided breakfast and lunch to students. The fee for the program operated on a sliding scale.
“I think it’s one of the best educational opportunities out there,” site coordinator Kevin Coomer said.“It educates kid’s about the community and it creates a feeling of ownership in the community.”

Coomer is a student at Skagit Community College and heard about the program through a school advisor. He and other college and high school students assisted in facilitating the program throughout the eight weeks. “It turned out to be one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had,” Coomer said.

While stenciling storm drains as fish habitat, compiling a map of Marine Park in Bellingham, making planters filled with drought tolerant plants and creating a quilt demonstrating different ways to conserve water, students learned about the importance of conservation and their communities. The program also included field trips to the Vancouver Aquarium and Hovander Park. “I learned about the city and how it worked,” Clinton Macloud, 11, said. “It was interesting and I learned how to interact with different age groups.”

After its success in Skagit County, the program began in Bellingham eight years ago, said Jeff Morgan, Best Self program director in Whatcom County. This year marks the program’s second in Blaine.

Also a program administrator at the Whatcom County Commission for Children and Youth, Morgan said the Best Self program can be useful for kids who are struggling or losing interest in school. The program works in part to provide support for children who need structured activities during the summer, Morgan said. It engages children in a supportive learning environment where positive social interaction between different age groups is encouraged.

“This program serves anyone who wants to enroll,” said Leaf Schumann director of Blaine Family Services Center. “The beauty is that it serves the disenfranchised.”

“It’s sweet to be able to offer a program that won’t say no to anyone,” Schumann said.

Shumann, writer of the grant that funded the project, hopes to see the program double in size next year to accommodate 100 children in four classrooms.

Various organizations in Blaine and Whatcom County provided funding for the program. However most of the $25,000 required to run the program each year was obtained through the 21st Century Community Learning Grant provided by the federal government. Blaine is the only school district in the county to have received this grant. Additionally, the school district provided school rooms and busses. Other resources were provided by Blaine parks, St. Joseph Hospital, the Substance Abuse Prevention Council, Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University.

Parents were very pleased to see the results. Blaine resident Robert Cross was initially curious to see what the program would provide for his two children.

“They’ll be back,” Cross said. .

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