Outdoor education is a 'go'


Staff writer

Outdoor Education, the popular camp program for elementary school students that had been threatened with extinction in the Federal Way Public Schools system, will survive –– at least, for one more year.

The Federal Way Outdoor Education Fund, a grassroots organization dedicated to saving the camp program, asked school district officials last summer for the opportunity to support the program.

After superintendent Tom Murphy, deputy superintendent Mark Davidson, Steve Meyer of the Outdoor Education Fund and the director of Camp Thunderbird, David Aaby, met several times to discuss how to save the camp program, they reached a compromise.

The fund group agreed to come up with about $20,000 by June 30 to pay for teachers’ stipends. Approximately 60 teachers will accompany their students to camp this year.

Steve Mayer, a teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School and teacher representative for the fund, said the at this point has only raised about $2,000. Some of that money came from community fund-raisers and donations from individuals.

Meanwhile, the organization is seeking donations from local businesses in for the rest of the money. The fund has several grant writers and volunteers to help raise the necessary money.

“This is the best lab science that we do in school,” Mayer said. “It’s hands-on learning, so kids get to go out and they get to touch and they get to feel and they get to see.”

Although Outdoor Education has been saved, it’s on a temporary basis. The camp program must be reapproved next year in order to continue. And this year’s camp program brings several changes:

• Only fifth-grade students will be able to attend. In previous years, the camp experience was open to sixth-graders, as well.

• Camp has been shortened from five days to four days. Tuition has decreased from $170 to $115 per student.

• All fifth-graders — even those whose families are not well-off — will be able to attend. For the first time, the school district agreed to pay tuition for students who qualify for the free-and-reduced lunch program.

“We just felt like if we’re going to do this camp, then every student needs to be able to go,” district chief financial officer Sally McLean said.

Prior to making the decision that Outdoor Education would stay, Murphy met with school principals to get their input. “The vast majority feel that the experience students get in this activity is tremendously beneficial –– especially students who normally would not have any opportunity to experience something like camp,” Murphy said.

He said principals also felt it was important to retain the program this year because it emphasizes science learning, a subject that will be introduced to the WASL standardized test in the next few years.

District officials are still deciding when to kick-off this year’s camp.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565,

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