Wild Whatcom works to educate children about the natural world, to connect kids to the beauty of our surroundings, and to foster stewardship for future conservationists. What began as a few outings with a group of friends has grown into week-long camps and natural encounters on a regular basis, introducing hundreds of kids to the woods, ocean, and creeks of our beautiful area. On April 25, Governor Jay Inslee was in Bellingham to award Wild Whatcom with a state grant to bring the outdoors into the curriculum of Bellingham City schools. The No Child Left Inside grant is designed to provide funding for outdoor programs aimed at getting kids out into nature.
Wild Whatcom Executive Director Emily Barnett Highleyman outlined the three goals of their outdoor education program, “The program works by catalyzing a sense of wonder and unleashing an innate curiosity; teaching kids to think like a scientist using the process of scientific inquiry to explore the natural world, and building character by developing resilience, self-reliance, good problem-solving skills, and adaptability.” The program’s intent is to be a complement to classroom learning. “We believe this program can further, foster, and encourage in-classroom learning.”
In the initial stages, the program will serve six Title 1 Whatcom County schools — Birchwood, Alderwood, Sunnyland, Cordata, Carl Cozier, and Roosevelt — which equals approximately 200–300 second-graders who will have four outings a year. The Whatcom Community Foundation is also chipping in, and helping to fund the program. The state awarded $940,000 in grants for outdoor programs. “The Whatcom Community Foundation is a very vital part of building community here in Bellingham,” Highleyman said.
In a press release from the Governor’s Office, Virginia Painter of the State Parks and Recreation Commission, and Susan Zemek of Recreation and Conservation, write that the grant, “targets at-risk youth by focusing on programs that provide outdoor environmental, agricultural or other natural resource-based education and recreation programs. This year’s grant recipients are offering a variety of educational activities, from sailing a 60-foot ship, to snow camping, to building trails.” Wild Whatcom also has an after-school program called Neighborhood Nature in which kids explore their neighborhoods and school surroundings.
“We want to connect to a wider community of educators in our county, and this grant will help us do that.” The four outings also include a service component. “Kids come alive when they get to help,” Highleyman said