Parents, administrators work to assure fifth graders go to Waskowitz

Due to a change of heart at the Vashon School District and aggressive fundraising by parents, fifth-graders at Chautauqua Elementary School will again make the trip to Camp Waskowitz this spring, a decades-long tradition on Vashon.

Last fall, school district officials, facing a tough set of budget cuts, suggested that the Camp Waskowitz outdoor school program become self-funding. Parents were told they would need to raise $10,000 to $15,000 for the students to attend the camp; as in years past, parents would also pay a fee of around $200 for the program.

However, Chautauqua principal Jody Metzger said that after further discussion with Superintendent Michael Soltman, the two decided that the district should at least cover the cost of sending fifth-grade teachers and other staff to the camp.

“Really it should be our responsibility to pay for the staffing part,” Metzger said.

In addition, the discovery of a budgeting error provided $4,500 more for the camp budget.

“When those two things came out, it was a significant amount,” Metzger said. “A little egg on my face, but great news.”

Charged with a goal of raising just $6,000, fifth-grade parents teamed up with the Vashon PTSA to keep the outdoor school program afloat.

The PTSA contributed $2,500 raised at its annual harvest party and book fair, and Partners in Education (PIE) also gave a $1,500 grant for the camp.

Lauri Hennessey, the parent of a fifth-grader, said volunteers raised the remaining $2,000 needed through a bake sale that took place three Saturdays in December.

Hennessey said she believes the bake sale, organized by parent Sarah VanCleeve, was so successful because parents and community members — many of whom attended Camp Waskowitz themselves or have older students who did — are passionate about supporting the program. Some high school girls who had fond memories of the camp even volunteered to hold signs at the intersection all three weekends, Hennessey said.

“I’ve never seen such wide involvement in a fundraiser,” she said. “There were a lot of wonderful moments watching people respond to this thing.”

Though this year’s fifth-grade class is set to attend camp, Metzger said the school district will likely face continued budget cuts and the future of the program is still uncertain.

Metzger said the school district has considered running an outdoor school on Vashon to save money.

It’s valuable for students to get away from home and to interact with students from schools with more ethnic diversity, she said; at the same time, she added, Vashon is a great setting for an outdoor school and is home to some great outdoor educators. She has already asked a few of them for their ideas of what an outdoor school on Vashon might look like. She has even thought of bringing students from other areas to the Island for a new camp.

“I would love to have more of the emphasis here, perhaps look at a different way of doing it,” she said.

Hennessey said that unless something changes, supplementing Camp Waskowitz with fundraising will likely become an annual event.

“It looks like in today’s climate, parents are going to have to help out more for these kinds of activities to continue happening,” she said.


School board meeting

The Vashon School Board will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the McMurray Middle School Library.

The board is expected to vote on board goals and discuss the 2011-2012 budget and enrollment projections. There will be a legislative report, and the board will also decide whether to hold a special meeting on Jan. 19 to discuss the design, value analysis report and alternative funding sources for the new Vashon High School  building.


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