Olympia schoolchildren may get to pack their bags for Camp Cispus one more time.
The Olympia School Board will consider a proposal tonight to spend $30,000 on the Outdoor School program. It’s a big request during a grim budget year, but school officials say it’s one worth pursuing.
“Every time (Outdoor School) comes up in budget discussions, people rally around and say it’s important to them,” said district spokesman Peter Rex.
The Olympia School District Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for educational programs, has offered to contribute $20,000 for this year’s Outdoor School. The money was raised through holiday wreath sales and a grant from Weyerhaeuser.
Families in the Olympia School District pay $150 in tuition for the three-day, two-night program at Camp Cispus. But the actual cost of the camp is about $200 a child. In the past, the district has paid about $50,000 a year to cover the tuition gap and provide scholarships for the nearly 20 percent of children whose families can’t afford to pay their entire camp fee.
“Our philosophy is every kid is going, one way or the other; we’re not leaving anyone behind,” said Anne Larsen, a parent at Boston Harbor Elementary School who helped raise money for the Outdoor School program.
The Cispus Learning Center, more commonly referred to as Camp Cispus, is near Mount St. Helens in Lewis County. Getting a chance to learn about science and other topics in an outdoor classroom filled with old-growth trees at Cispus is a springtime tradition that goes back several decades for Olympia students.
“It actually teaches them to love and embrace the Earth and nature,” said Ryan Hall, a parent from Pioneer Elementary School and a board member of the education foundation. “And you really can’t get that from going on a two-hour field trip.”
The budget ax has come close to eliminating Camp Cispus numerous times. Last year, fearing Outdoor School would be completely canceled, a group of parents set out to raise $50,000 to save it for a year. The parents made their goal, but it wasn’t a sustainable option, Larsen said.
In recent months, school district officials explored moving Outdoor School to a closer facility to help keep the costs to about $20,000. The district checked out several sites and almost struck a deal with Camp Thunderbird, which is about a 20-minute drive from Olympia.
But then the Boy Scout camp on Summit Lake in Thurston County began grappling with its own economic woes.
“Due to staff cutbacks, they weren’t able to offer the level of support we thought they originally were going to,” Rex said.
School district officials plan to continue exploring options for future years; one option could be partnering with other school districts at another site, Rex said.
Meantime, the district administration is recommending that students return to Camp Cispus this spring, Rex said.
Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 firstname.lastname@example.org