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School’s out for...spring?

POULSBO — For one week in the spring, a few elementary students had a chance to romp through mountain trails, kayak the waters of Liberty Bay and learn the basics of mountain climbing.

Granted, they were each enjoying their week-long spring break vacation. But each of the campers said they were enjoying what they called a “learning experience.”

Learning? On spring break?

For the instructors of Olympic Outdoor Center Adventure Camps, that’s the idea — and it doesn’t take long for the campers to become absorbed in the environment around them.

“You get to see all of the marine wildlife,” said Ryan McCarty, 8, skipping along the low-cut grass next to the Kvelstad Pavilion. “And we get to see the sea cucumbers and starfish.”

“We’ve been able to go so many places,” Matthew Woodmoyers, 10, said. “It’s more fun than school because you get to go on a field trip every day.”

Olympic Education Coordinator Spring Courtright led the group of campers through the basics of hiking, kayaking and climbing for the organization’s spring break camp. The program ran from 9 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m. every day this week, for youngsters 7 through 12.

Courtright said the main objective of the camp was to “teach an appreciation of the natural environment.”

“The area we live in is such an incredible area,” Courtright commented. “We want to teach them the basics so they can use them for the rest of their lives.”

Courtright has been the education coordinator for the Olympic Outdoor Center for a year and a half. She studied environmental education at Evergreen College in Olympia and also worked for “Naturalists at Large,” a California company devoted to developing and implementing environmental and science education.

Courtright has sought to bring that kind of education to Little Norway, for the spring break camp, as well as the center’s summer-long schedule.

“I see their social skills develop, as well as their interpersonal skills ... it’s also a challenge for them emotionally,” she said of the camps. “Some of (the campers) don’t have brothers or sisters, but when they leave here, they’re a family.”

Jacob Jones, 14, has been helping Courtright in running the camp and teaching the campers.

“It’s good to see the kids playing around, learning how to rock climb and kayak,” Jones said. “I enjoy everything about the outdoors and its nice to teach the kids (about the environment).”

Many of the campers are fascinated each day by certain aspects of the environment they never knew. Rebecca Zawlocki, 8, certainly learned something she’d not known about sea cucumbers.

“They look really hard,” she said, “but they’re actually squishy.”

Many of the campers agreed on another thing: the camp is a lot more fun than their regular school day. If break could last forever, it would appear that many of the students would be perfectly content.

“You get to do all these outdoor activities,” Parker Budding, age 11, said. “In school you just sit and listen to a lecture. This is way more fun.”

Learning about the environment — even for only a week — has made the campers more socially conscious about the environment as well.

“I think we shouldn’t kill the fish,” said Mitch Koken, age 9. “They’re like us, they have feelings too.”

“(It’s important) so we can have an idea about what goes on in the environment so you can protect it better,” Crysal Stepper, 11, said.

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