Parents rally to save school district’s outdoor education program

Blakely Elementary students yank ivy from Blakely Harbor Park on Wednesday
Blakely Elementary students yank ivy from Blakely Harbor Park on Wednesday

Andrea Pickett can’t remember the campfire songs she sang as a fourth-grader at her Bainbridge school’s outdoor education camp, but she has no problem recalling the lessons about nature she learned there.

“I remember how to catalog trees and understand the different chemical pHs of soils,” said Pickett, now the mother of a fourth-grader enrolled at Blakely Elementary. “Some of my most powerful memories when I was that age came from that experience.”

So, when Pickett heard last spring that the Bainbridge Island School District was cutting the three-decades-old outdoor education program, she and dozens of other parents rallied to save it.

Through various fundraising efforts, the parent-teacher organizations from Blakely, Ordway and Wilkes elementary schools raised enough money over the last seven months to revive the program, which includes annual two-night trips for fourth-graders to IslandWood and other environmental science centers.

“It’s been a phenomenal effort on the part of parents,” Blakely Principal Ric Jones said. “We’re facing some serious budget considerations, and the outdoor ed program was a considerable expense and undertaking.”

The district announced it would cut the $32,500 program last May as part of a larger effort to trim $1.5 million from its budget.

Many children had been anticipating the program for years, parents said.

“For many kids, it’s kind of a right of passage where they spend a night away from home for the first time,” said Kirsten Fitzgerald, the mother of an Ordway fourth-grader. “From a young age they start looking forward to it after hearing about from their brothers and sisters.”

To raise the funds, parents solicited contributions from local businesses, initiated a “loose change” collection drive and sold environmentally-friendly tote bags and water bottles.

Students gathered pledges from friends and family for a weed pull that, on Wednesday, cleared several truckloads of English ivy and other invasive plants from Blakely Harbor Park, the Ted Olson Nature Preserve and Rotary Park on Weaver Road.

“The kids were like locusts on the ivy – it just disappeared,” Fitzgerald said of the 78 Ordway students who descended on Rotary Park.

IslandWood is also pitching in, offering to donate all the proceeds from this Saturday’s Enviropalooza event to help restore the outdoor program.

The day-long event will feature speakers, musicians, nature walks, workshops and environmentally-themed games for kids.

With the this year’s fundraising goal reached, proceeds from Enviropalooza will help reduce the program’s student participation fees and put some money away for next year. Again facing budget reductions, the district has no plans to restore the outdoor program’s funding for the next school year, leaving the financial burden on parents.

Fitzgerald isn’t sure about the program’s future, but she’s glad it’ll live on for at least one more batch of fourth-graders.

“It’s so important,” she said. “It’s about kids developing an appreciation for the outdoors. The natural environment is ever-threatened. Exposing more people – especially kids – will make the world a better place.”


Proceeds from the IslandWood learning center’s Enviropalooza event will help restore funding for a popular fourth-grade outdoor education program in Bainbridge public schools.

Headlining the event are marine researchers Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins, who will discuss the impact of plastic debris on oceans and their adventure sailing a raft made of 15,000 plastic bottles from California to Hawaii.

Other events include live music from Seattle singer-songwriter Benjamin Doerr, a “trash critter” zoo, readings of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” guided nature hikes and composting workshops.

Enviropalooza is Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., 4450 Blakely Avenue on Bainbridge Island. Visit for more information.

See more of Carolyn Yaschur’s photos of the Blakely Harbor Park weed-pull here.