State funds projects to provide outdoor learning opportunities for area children

For the Nisqually Valley News


The state of Washington will fund $3.7 million in projects across the state in the coming years to provide students with additional outdoor learning opportunities.

The grant funding, administered by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) in partnership with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), includes several projects in Lewis and Thurston counties.

“With these funds, community-based organizations will partner with school districts to take learning outside for more than 40,000 Washington students,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said in a news release recently. “These programs provide students with opportunities to learn in meaningful and engaging ways where they can understand the unique context of their community. I’m grateful for the Legislature’s investment in this area and for our partnership with the Recreation and Conservation Office.”

The grant program was passed by the Legislature during the 2022 session to support public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade. In total, the RCO and OSPI received 111 applications requesting $15.3 million. Grant funding was awarded to 27 recipients in 22 counties.

Here’s a breakdown of the projects in Lewis and Thurston counties that will receive funding through the program:

• The Washington Native Plant Society received a $49,940 grant to increase ecology education at six middle schools across the state, including Griffin Middle School in Olympia. With the funding, students will learn about healthy ecosystems and design and implement a plan to improve degraded land near their school.

• The Nisqually River Foundation received $149,690 to provide 14,000 students in Lewis and Thurston counties with three outdoor learning experiences. During the experiences, the students will monitor the health of the rivers near their school, travel to the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s Culture Center to engage tribal teachers, and visit Puget Sound beaches to learn about plankton sampling and environmental careers.

• The University of Washington’s Mount Rainier Institute received $150,000 to provide 400 upper-middle and high school students in King, Pierce, Thurston and Yakima counties with overnight and day trips to the University of Washington’s Pack Forest and Mount Rainier National Park. During the trips, the students learn about forest climate science, wildfire mitigation and climate resilience.

• The South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group received $44,651 to expand its salmon in the schools program from 8 to 11 schools in Thurston and Mason counties. In Thurston County, Lacey Elementary and Mountain View Elementary in the North Thurston Public School District will participate in a three-month program to raise salmon before releasing the fish into a local creek. The program will expand from 488 students to 700 students in the third through fifth grades.

“We received a large number of high-quality applications,” Megan Duffy, director of the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, said in the release. “It shows what a tremendous need there is for this kind of outdoor education across the state.”