GRuB, the Olympia-based non-profit that immerses at-risk teens in the challenges and joys of growing and eating nutritional food, packed a House Education Committee hearing room Tuesday with students, community leaders and educators to voice support for House Bill 1276.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, would create a pilot program for two school districts to link their at-risk students with community groups, farmers and food banks. Students would grow food for low-income families, including their own, with an opportunity to earn high school credits at the same time.
If the pilot program is successful, it could be expanded around the state as one more tool to boost the high school graduation rate, which hovers around a disappointing 75 percent.
The legislation draws on the success of GRuB. For instance, in the past 10 years, only about 39 percent of the young people entering the GRuB program were on track to graduate. Many were high school dropouts waiting to happen, or kids who had already been expelled from school.
Once they committed to getting their hands dirty in the soil, and learned to work with others while building self-esteem, 90 percent of them graduated or earned their GED. Just as impressive, a whopping 66 percent of GRuB grads went on to college.
There were some teary eyes in the legislative hearing room Tuesday as GRuB students offered their testimony in support of the measure.
Eric Fenno, 19, is a senior at Olympia High School, enrolled in the GRuB program, which for the past two years, has been offered as part of the high school alternative curriculum.
Before I joined GRuB, I had serious problems with depression and anxiety Id given up on school entirely and was spending all my time getting into trouble, Fenno told the legislators. Now I have friends and I can talk to people. Im happy with my life and where it is today.
This is a life-saving program, Olympia School Board member Mark Campeau testified. Its a program that could easily go beyond gardens.
If the bill passes, the Olympia School District and GRuB appear to be all but guaranteed some of the state funding for the program, estimated at $130,000 a year. Thats because the bill stipulates that one of the pilot projects has to be in place already, and successful. Thats GRuB at Olympia High School in a nutshell.
House Bill 1276 would go hand-in-hand with another high school dropout prevention idea House Bill 1424, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton. She, too, thinks its time for some new approaches to the high school dropout problem.
Her bill would target schools with high dropout rates, providing struggling high school with one graduation coach for every 500 students, and elementary and middle schools with one school success coach per 500 students. It also calls on the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to beef up efforts to prevent dropouts and reengage students that leave school without graduating.
This bill has a longer reach and much higher price tag than the one linking at-risk youth to farming an estimated $10 million in 2014. Haigh believes the way to secure the money is to make sure its included in whatever funding package lawmakers craft to comply with the state Supreme Court ruling requiring the state to fully fund public education.
The funding is a drop in the bucket compared to the social and human costs of adults trying to carve out a living without a high school degree. Both bills have merit and deserve legislative support. ... .... ... The ninth annual Capitol Land Trust Conservation Breakfast at Saint Martins University Tuesday drew a record crowd of more than 500 people and pulled in a record amount of money $62,000 in gross receipts and still counting.
The early morning breakfast featured a guest appearance by Gov. Jay Inslee, who presented Capitol Land Trust executive director Eric Erler with the state Department of Ecologys highest honor the Environmental Excellence Award.
The award reflects Erlers uncanny ability to work with a wide variety of community interests to preserve and protect fish and wildlife habitat, working farms and forestland in Thurston, Mason and Grays Harbor counties.
Since 1989, the land trust has conserved some 5,000 acres of habitat, including miles of shoreline along Oakland Bay, Eld Inlet and Budd Inlets Gull Harbor, as well as wetlands and prairie habitat in south county along the Black River.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org