News

Outdoor education program thrown a lifeline

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Funding of the outdoor education program is being recommended for one more year by Federal Way Public Schools officials.

The 22-year-old program has funding available for the 2004-05 academic year. Some money set aside for opening Todd Beamer High School was not used and part of it is recommended for the program, said Sally McLean, the school district's chief financial officer.

The program is expected to cost $225,000 to operate, and the district will pay $115,000. The remainder of the cost comes from the fees parents pay to send their children to the camp.

For most of its history, outdoor education has been a science camp for sixth-grade students. Heather Hamashima, leader of the Federal Way Outdoor Education Fund, a citizen group, said the program offers students the chance to learn hands-on during four days about ecology and forests, among other subjects.

The students take the classes at Camp Thunderbird outside of Olympia. Since sixth-grade students are now at middle schools, the program is for fifth-graders.

She was pleased to know the district was making an effort to fund the program this year, Hamashima said.

The program almost ended its streak during budgeting for the 2003-04 school year. While the district figured out how to make $6.4 million in lost revenue less painful, the outdoor program was one program put out to pasture.

But three things happened shortly after the school year started to bring it back, McLean said.

First, enrollment for this last school year was better than expected, as more students came into the district. More students meant more state dollars into the district's coffers.

Second, the district had some money leftover from its 2002-03 school year and (much like this year) the district could put some of it toward outdoor education.

The third point was that members of the community and school district officials lobbied the School Board to keep the program. The Federal Way Outdoor Education Fund was formed to help the district bear some of the financial burden and be a focal point for support of the program.

The Federal Way Outdoor Education Fund is comprised of parents, an educator and other community members.

The group also asked the School Board for more time last year to search for other revenue sources and was able to raise $20,000 to help the district. It is waiting to learn if any grants will be awarded from applications it submitted last year, Hamashima said.

Last year, several people spoke at board meetings in favor of the program. It was noted that for many at-risk students, the chance to be outdoors in a positive experience was important.

The board will have a study session on the 2004-05 budget at 5 p.m. July 26 at the district's Educational Service Center at 31405 18th Ave S.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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