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A Trip to the Woods: Revisiting Childhood at Islandwood Environmental Center

2009 September 3

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.

image of a teepee shaped treehouseIslandwood 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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Lina-EPA permalink
    September 3, 2009

    Sounds like a great experience. Glad you had fun.

  2. Gretta Luedeke permalink
    September 3, 2009

    I wish I was a 4th grade student in a Washington school!! All states should have a classroom similar to this to get children excited about the world around them and away from the electronics!

  3. Jackenson Durand permalink
    September 3, 2009

    Islandwood Environmental Center is a school in the woods for kids in grades 4th to 6th.
    I think this kind of school represents future spirit of a tomorrow country.
    Theses kids are early litterateur, in this environment area where they are receiving education. That surprise me in the US, we are conserving Philosophy and move forward with fact or Science (Technology).
    In a school, kids are early familiarizing themselves with Literature = {History, Art, writing, poetry, Music, Culture…}.

  4. Johnny R. permalink
    September 3, 2009

    That is a truly wonderful school, but if population growth and its polluting commercial expansion is not reversed soon, there will be nothing for those grown up children to do but suffer and die along with 99.9% of life on Earth. Our planet is a living biosphere under attack by the greedy indifference of capital investors who want their business enterprises to grow forever onward and outward to the stars searching for new worlds to conquer and consume.

  5. Wesley Paul permalink
    September 3, 2009

    What a great way for EPA to address the chronic problem of neglect and disregard of environment. I think it is wonderful that such educational trips will inspire many to care for the environment. They say seeing is believing and the problem today is we have much less education about the environment than sports education. Kudos to the participants and the folks responsible for this tour. Like they say prevention is better than cure.

    Wesley K. Paul, P.E., C.P.
    CEO, Ark Engineering Services Inc.

  6. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    September 4, 2009

    This is a great program. Washington State is the leader in environmental education in the public schools. The other states could do a great deal to educate students on the importance of the environment and environmental social justice. But the state government here has nearly crushed public education while giving billion dollar tax breaks to some of the biggest, wealthiest national and multinational corporations and they said they had to do these things because the state had no money. Things that helped people were cut alot, things that helped big corporations were increased alot. Clearly, if we have any chance at all on the environmental front, it will only come with educated and informed citizens who understand the importance of environmental issues to them and to the economy and who understand the importance of voting in elections–all elections from President down to city council and water and school districts. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  7. James Atkinson permalink
    September 4, 2009

    I love walking in the Great Swamp of New Jersey. Basking Ridge.
    Get away from the Rat-race. Get a first-hand look at Nature! Jimmy.

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