Take caution and check for road closures due to wildfires in the North Cascades.
May 9, 2022

Licia Sahagun, Executive Director
Wild Whatcom
(360) 389-3414

Outdoor Education Expands in Whatcom County

A collaborative effort among six community organizations, the Connections Program, will reach nearly all Blaine and Mount Baker District elementary students with outdoor education this school year and next. Each student will receive 5-10 hours of outdoor instruction aligned with classroom science standards, with lessons ranging from investigating stream health to managing school gardens. This innovative approach to programming leverages several local groups to bring unique curriculum at each grade level, starting with local outdoor experiences on or near school grounds and building to off-site excursions to the North Cascades National Park or Camp Saturna.

Working in conjunction with district leadership and WCEE, the partnering groups—Camp Saturna, Common Threads, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, North Cascades Institute, and Wild Whatcom—are bringing their programs together to provide outdoor experiences to each elementary grade level. “As a rural school district encompassing 622 square miles, surrounded by forest, rivers, and mountains, we believe in the power of our outdoor classroom yet lack the expertise to fully utilize it. We are thrilled to partner with these community organizations to provide outdoor, educational lessons that integrate healthy habits, scientific inquiry, and social-emotional learning,” explained Bridget Rossman, curriculum director for Mount Baker School District.

“As we continue to remove layers of mitigation that have been in effect during the pandemic we know the importance of engaging hands-on real world learning experiences for our students,” Blaine Superintendent Dr. Granger shared. “This partnership allows us to expose our students to some of those valuable learning opportunities outside the classroom. We appreciate the continued partnership within our community as a model of what common vision and partnerships can bring to our students.”

The Connections program is a continuation of a similar collaborative effort during the 2020-2021 school year in Bellingham, Blaine, and Mount Baker School Districts to support students and districts during remote learning that grew out of the Whatcom Coalition for Environmental Education (WCEE). Inspired by those efforts, Representative Alicia Rule worked to secure two years of funding to continue programs in Mount Baker and Blaine School Districts as well as championed House Bill 2078 to expand outdoor education statewide.

The opening text of HB 2078 reads, “The [Washington State] legislature finds that time outdoors helps children thrive physically, emotionally, and academically, yet over the past few generations, childhood has moved indoors. On average, today's kids spend up to 44 hours per week in front of a screen, and less than 10 minutes a day doing activities outdoors… From stress reduction to improved focus and engagement, and better academic performance, outdoor-based learning helps kids thrive.”

“As a social worker and mom, I’ve never seen children’s mental health this bad,” Rule said. “But we know that crises can also be opportunities if we move forward with hope. It’s time to recover together by getting kids out from behind screens and into nature.” The Connections Program aims to complement and build upon the recent passage of HB 2078, which directs the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to create a program that will award grants to support schools in offering outdoor learning, requires the OSPI give priority to schools that have been underserved in science education, and encourages the program to work with education stakeholders to develop principles for outdoor education.

“I am honored to be a part of such an innovative and collaborative effort that models what the next iteration of whole-child education can look like in Whatcom County,” commented Licia Sahagun, Executive Director of Wild Whatcom. “I hope that we not only create meaningful experiences for students we serve this year, but that we can also inspire other school districts to utilize the capacity and expertise of outdoor educators to bring more field-based learning to all students.” Wild Whatcom is spearheading communications and evaluation for the collaborative; North Cascades Institute is acting as fiscal manager with other partners providing direct programming and project management support.

Learn more about the Connections program at the Whatcom Coalition for Environmental Education webpage: https://www.whatcomenvironmentaleducation.com/connectionsprogram

Contact: 360-389-3414 or info@WildWhatcom.org with questions.

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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