Districtsnags huge outdoor rec grant

Published on Thu, Sep 2, 2004 by ack Kintner

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District snags huge outdoor rec grant

By Jack Kintner

The state of Washington, through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, has awarded a 21st Century Grant to Blaine school district that could be worth as much as $620,000 over five years. Superintendent Dr. Mary Lynne Derrington announced the grant at last week’s school board meeting.

The grant is for $124,000 per year renewable up to five years. It funds a program beginning this school year that will use outdoor experience to improve student academic performance. The process will also offer opportunities for strengthening parenting skills in the students’ families, according to grant writer and program administrator Leaf Schumann. “We want to capture the kids’ attention with real-world activities,” Schumann said, “and then help them apply what they learn to real life academic situations, such as using math to figure out a compass course.”

The grant partners the school district with local agencies who will provide students with such outdoor experiences as hikes, wall climbs, fossil hunts and orienteering competitions coupled with pre- and post-event classes at the middle school. The primary agencies are the Blaine Boys and Girls Club, the Bellingham YMCA and Whatcom County Parks and Recreation.

It also involves the Whatcom Literacy Council, the Blaine Community Theater and the Spinal Industry Network, an agency run by Blaine resident Pat Madsen, in a number of spin-off programs designed to supplement the grant’s primary focus.

Schumann, along with Blaine middle school principal Randy Elsbree, applied for the same grant last year, “and we came close but were not selected,” Schumann said. This time around Schumann said the proposal is quite a bit stronger, “and because of that we tied for first with two other districts” in the evaluation process. Only 10 of the 49 districts who applied to the state this year were awarded grants.

While the application targets a specific student population, Schumann emphasized that the program is open to all middle school students. “We obviously want to serve the students most in need of the service this offers, but there’s room for everyone,” Schumann said.

“What sold the proposal was that our numbers are growing” in the total of students who are low-income and who are English Language Learners (ELL), Schumann said, pointing out that 11 percent of students nationally fall below the poverty line “but in Blaine it’s 17 percent. We do have a disproportionate number of families in need.”

The grant is aimed specifically at providing primarily outdoor experiences to such students who otherwise might not be able to afford them, “although I want to repeat that the program is open for everyone,” Schumann said, “because diversity is one thing we’re counting on to make this a real benefit to those who participate.”
In addition to the outdoor trips, all of which will have certificated school teachers teaching the pre- and post-trip classes, Schumann described two other program elements, “theater activities with the Blaine Community Theater and a parent institute, a place to not just teach skills but where parents can feel welcomed and supported by the schools.” Schumann said he wants parents to feel as comfortable “here as they would in their own home” in working with the school and their children toward improved academic performance.

Schumann credited Elsbree, “along with a bunch of other middle school teachers and staff,” as having come up with the idea to use outdoor education as a vehicle to improve academic performance. “It’s his brain child,” said Schumann, who this year moved from the district’s Family Service Center to Blaine primary school as the school counselor.

Elsbree, on the other hand, said that “Leaf did the bulk of the work on this thing, and deserves a lot of credit for making it happen.”