Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013
Every Thursday morning through the early summer, the gleeful shouts of students from Concrete Elementary School were likely to awaken employees at North Cascades National Park. Thirty to fifty enthusiastic students showed up early on those Thursdays, from June 27th to August 1st, to participate in the Lunch and Literacy Summer Camp.
The NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation program facilitated a partnership between a variety of area organizations to make the camp possible. United General Hospital, Skagit County Public Health, and the Concrete school district devoted people and funding to the effort. Additional funding came from the USDA, the CDC’s Healthy Community Initiative, School’s Out Washington, Food Lifeline, and the Skagit Valley Food Co-op.
Key individuals from these institutions designed the summer camp with an emphasis on healthy eating habits, literacy exercises, and environmental education. Monday through Wednesday, Taylor Murillo and Brie Phillips, college interns at United General Hospital in Sedro-Woolley, taught the students at their school in Concrete, about 16 miles from the park compound. On Thursdays, Cait McHugh, environmental education grad student at the North Cascades Institute, led them in outdoor activities in North Cascades that complemented class learning with field study. In all, students participated in 92 hours of programming with 24 of those happening in the park.
Members of the North Cascades National Park team played a large role on Thursdays. Interpretive and outreach specialist Cindy Bjorklund led the students through the Junior Ranger series, upon whose completion they received the coveted Junior Ranger badge. Volunteer and youth programs coordinator Mike Brondi and the native nursery staff led the kids in planting native species and washing plant pots. Artist-in-residence Sasa Belah narrated Native American legends and encouraged them to write and draw their own tales. Administrative assistant Julie Stone was always ready with the spare game to channel their excess enthusiasm. Numerous park staff came in and out throughout the weeks to educate – about the wilderness ethic or bear ecology, for instance – and to provide general assistance.
Of course, the students didn’t go home each Thursday without the opportunity to get their hands dirty. During the week themed “Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers,” they got the chance to rummage through the park’s compost heap in hopes of finding the ever-important worms and fungi that break down our food scraps. During “Wings and Things” week, they hiked to a forest stream to search for certain benthic macro invertebrates as indicators of water quality.
In its inaugural year, the Lunch and Literacy summer camp’s success bodes well for the program’s future. North Cascades looks forward to more summers of children from the local community using the park as their own backyard laboratory.