New camp, same activities

School officials consider cutting popular program

Camp Moran has been a highlight of Oak Harbor sixth-graders for decades. It provides a week-long adventure where students learn about the environment while having an enjoyable camp experience.

That tradition may be ending as Oak Harbor school officials look at alternatives to the camp. They say it’s costly and the instruction it provides doesn’t jibe with modern educational requirements.

School officials are considering cutting Camp Moran this year to help balance a budget shortfall for the 2008-2009 school year.

It costs approximately $83,000 to send sixth-graders to the Orcas Island camp. That cost is split between two groups. The school district chips in $43,000 and families cover the remaining $39,000 by paying $125 per student.

Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon researched and found seven less expensive outdoor education programs scattered between Everett and Bellingham that offer a similar experience. Those camps are:

• Camp Killoqua in north Everett.

• Camp Kirby on Samish Island near Bellingham.

• Mountain School, North Cascades National Park.

• Warm Beach near Stanwood.

• Camp Moran on Orcas Island.

• Academic Adventures, Walla Walla Marine Station, Deception Pass.

• Lutherwood Camp and Retreat Center, Lake Samish near Bellingham.

Changing camps would produce a shorter experience for students. Rather than students going on a five-day, four-night excursion, it will be reduced to a three-day, two-night excursion.

If parents continue to pay the $125 fee the school district would continue offering the camp either on a cost-neutral basis or paying up to $15,000 depending on the camp.

Gibbon said that availability is good at every camp under consideration, especially since many school districts are experiencing budget problems.

“These camps are highly motivated to get school districts to participate,” Gibbon said during last week’s school board meeting.

School board member Peter Hunt said that five of the seven camps being considered meet the school district’s grade level expectations.

Some school board members support keeping some kind of education camp available to students.

“I really don’t want to see it go away,” Gary Wallin said.

Superintendent Rick Schulte said that initially, Camp Moran was a culminating project for sixth-graders when they finish elementary school. Currently, sixth-graders in the school district attend middle school.

When it started, the camp was taught by elementary school teachers, who were responsible for science, arts, crafts and cooking.

Over the years those responsibilities shifted to camp staff and teachers’ role became primarily crowd control. As their roles shifted, the costs in offering the camps exploded, Schulte said.

School board member Dave McCool asked if the camp program could be moved down to fifth-grade.

Gibbon said if the camp is moved down to fifth-grade, the first year should include students from both grades. That way nobody will miss it.

The school board didn’t make any decisions concerning Camp Moran during its Monday evening meeting. Staff will continue researching camp options.

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