This year EPA’s Community Involvement Training Conference was held in Seattle, Washington. EPA employees as well as staff from other federal and state agencies and the private sector attended the three day conference. As part of the conference, various field trips were offered. I signed up for mine in advance and was very excited to learn more about this facility. My expectations were met and exceeded. Islandwood Environmental Center is a school in the woods for kids in grades 4th to 6th. Nestled among a 255-acre woody area – hence the name – on Bainbridge Island, Islandwood is the place we all wished we could have attended as kids. During our visit, Ginger, our tour guide, gave us a glimpse of what it is like to be a student visiting Islandwood. Using Puget Sound’s rich cultural history and the environment around it, the programs integrate art, science and technology. Their facilities are all sustainable and energy efficient and it is not uncommon to run into compost piles in the large dining room.
Islandwood is not open to the general public. Instead it operates as an overnight four-day stay for schools from within the state that otherwise do not have resources to provide their students this kind of experience. I marveled at their integrated curriculum that included hands on learning. This state of the art educational facility boasts a wet lab, a greenhouse called the Living Machine, an art studio, a floating observation classroom inside a marsh, a bog tree house and a 190-foot-long suspension bridge.
Islandwood is a great example of how communities, the private sector, the government and academia can work together to provide a one of a kind experience that can foster environmental stewardship. Graduate students from the University of Washington along with artists, biologists and educators work together to help students fulfill Washington State’s requirements of mandatory environmental education (1990).
After touring the facilities and walking for a few miles inside the woods, observing ancient large leafed maple trees, pine trees, wild blueberries and birds, I did not want to leave. In fact, I was one of the last people to get back on the bus. Islandwood was a unique experience and reminded me why I love my career in the environmental field so much.
About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialists in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.