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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kids take classroom knowledge into the outdoors

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

The weather wasn’t the best, but APPLE students from Garfield Elementary turned out in force for a camping trip last weekend, happily trekking through Riverside State Park in the rain and splashing in the occasional mud puddle.

The camping trip to Riverside State Park was the culmination of a year spent learning about native plants and animals. The trip was paid by a grant funded by Every Kid Outdoors and the Parks Trust.

A group of students sat at a table under a tent Saturday with gloved hands and a dark gray, unassuming lump sitting in front of each of them. They were there to dissect owl pellets, which are vomited up after an owl eats. Some were more enthusiastic than others, but fourth-grader Adalynn Hutchens looked uneasy. With encouragement from parents and school staff, she gamely started poking at the mass to pull it apart. As she pulled out bones and bits of teeth, she gradually became more comfortable.

“I was very grossed out,” she said. “Then I just tried digging in a little bit. It just got more and more fun the more I did it. I kind of freaked out about the fur, though.”

There are about 90 students in APPLE – Alternative Parent Participation Learning Experience – at Garfield Elementary, one of two schools in Spokane Public Schools to offer the program. Office Manager Francell Daubert, who oversees the program, said parents commit to volunteering 90 hours in the classroom per year. Parents typically come in and teach what they’re good at, whether it’s finances or baking. “It’s kind of family led in that respect,” she said. “It’s a bit more project based than your basic academic instruction.”

Each year the parents vote on an educational theme for the school year. This year it was the plants and animals of the Inland Northwest. The program had a geologist come to talk about local rock formations and the students had a virtual field trip to Lake Coeur d’Alene when hundreds of eagles migrated to the lake to catch fish.

The program usually has a large annual fundraiser to pay for things like field trips and special events. With COVID-19 impacting fundraising efforts, it was necessary to find a grant to pay for the cost of the camping trip, Daubert said. “This grant is specific to being able to camp out and study the natural environment,” she said.

Teacher Sam Rasmussen heads the Garfield APPLE program and said he heard about the grant opportunity from the head teacher at the school’s Express after school program. “She’d heard about the theme this year and heard about the grant and told me,” he said.

The camping trip to Riverside State Park was different from previous all-school field trips, but Rassmussen said that people seemed to appreciate that it was local and that they could go home at night if they weren’t up to camping in the rain. “We’re in a transition time with COVID,” he said. “We’re not quite back to full swing.”

Meanwhile, students like Hutchens were spending their time hiking, learning survival skills, learning how to use a compass and doing STEM activities like dissecting owl pellets. Hutchens had two older siblings go through the APPLE program and said she really enjoys it. “The teachers in APPLE are really great, fun,” she said.

She said she liked learning about native plants and animals, particularly rabbits. She said she went on a field trip to the Turnbull Wildlife Refuge near Cheney and was able to spot plants and animals she had been learning about in the classroom. She spotted one flower in particular that she recognized, though she couldn’t remember the name. “The flowers are really pretty and the roots are edible,” she said.

Parent Briana Olesen was there Saturday, bundled against the cold while her fourth-grade daughter, Abby Olesen, kept busy with the various activities. “Today’s been really fun,” she said. “There’s five sets of activities and they’re moving through them.”

While the weather was disappointing, Olesen said her daughter was still excited to be there. “We’ve been looking forward to this day for several months,” she said.

“All of it has been really fun,” Abby Olesen said.