By 5 p.m. Monday, April 25, Gov. Jay Inslee had caught a garter snake and hunkered down in a thicket of brush, not to be left out of a game of hide and seek.
Inslee and a small group of students from Northern Heights Elementary School were exploring forest land near the school as part of an after-school program run by Wild Whatcom. The local not-for-profit organization partners with schools to immerse students in nature as part of the science curriculum.
Wild Whatcom was among the first recipients of the state Parks and Recreation Commission’s No Child Left Inside grant, announced by Inslee in a small ceremony outside Northern Heights Elementary at 4 p.m. The grant aims to fund programs that help kids learn by connecting with nature.
“The evidence shows — and there is good evidence of this — that small, little experiences like this really turns kids on to science, turn them on to nature, turn them on to what’s wild in our state,” Inslee said.
Wild Whatcom will receive about $20,000 to go toward EdVentures, a series of four outings slated for next fall for second graders at Carl Cozier, Alderwood, Birchwood, Cordata, Sunnyland and Roosevelt elementary schools, all within the Bellingham School District. The hope is that the program can expand to other schools within, and beyond, the district, said Laurel Peak, Wild Whatcom program manager.
The outings will be paired, before and after, with classroom lectures to connect the outing with the curriculum.
The program will also get funding from the Whatcom Community Foundation.
Though Wild Whatcom already has after-school programs implemented at schools like Northern Heights Elementary, a program like EdVentures would get students outside during class time, bringing the experience to students who may miss out otherwise.
“Not everyone has the opportunity to go outside,” Peak said. “There are so many barriers that the kids who have the opportunity to go out with their parents or with groups like us, and other kids just hop on the bus and head home.”
All told, the grants amounted to more than $940,000, and were awarded to 19 programs in 15 counties. The Sedro Woolley-based North Cascades Institute also received $40,000 for its Youth Leadership Adventures in the North Cascades program.