Hands-on learning: Is it worth the cost?

The Eatonville School District is currently proposing 2020 levy and bond propositions for vote on Feb. 11.

Voters will be asked to approve a new levy at the same rate as the most recently passed levy. This would come out to about $2.50 per $1,000 assessed housing value. If this levy were to be voted in, residents would not see an increase in taxes due to the levy.

“We are only going to be as good as we are serving the needs of the children,” said Superintendent Krestin Bahr of Eatonville School District while discussing educational programs and the need for levy funds. “We can only do it better if we do it together.”

The levy proposal is a renewal for educational programs, operation costs, employees, full-time medical professionals, safety, text books, athletics and more. Bahr said that without the levy funds, many programs and operations will have difficulty existing and employees currently supplemented or paid through levy funds will be greatly affected.

Some programs that currently use levy funds include Todd Morrish’s Growing Relationships in the Soil (GRITS) program at Ohop Valley Farm used by high school and middle school children in the district, Amy Ames’ art program at Eatonville Elementary, and Carl Hehemann’s Hands to Health program at Columbia Crest A-S.T.E.M Academy.

Morrish’s GRITS program is a non-brick-and-mortar program at Ohop Valley Farm-land gifted to Eatonville School District three years ago. GRITS is a hands-on agricultural and farming technological program.

“It’s not just a program for kids that aren’t doing well in school but a program for children who want a different kind of environment,” Bahr said. “It’s for kids that are smart and capable and really want to do good work.”

Bahr noted that students have completely transformed the earth the last few years and added, “I believe GRITS, as a program, has saved lives for kids.”

During an interview with the Dispatch, Hehemann said the GRITS program helps struggling students go onto college or other continuing education. He said the program attributes to Eatonville School District’s 96 percent graduation rate.

Hands on Health largely consists of gardening on site at Columbia Crest. Students learn how to grow, preserve, prepare and cook from the garden. Last year, hundreds of pounds of carrots, beets, rutabaga, tomatoes and zucchini were grown, harvested and preserved; the school uses the produce as snacks throughout the year, encouraging healthy eating habits.

During winter, students research and write expository and persuasive papers about environmental issues, gardening and pollination.

“The program makes school immediately applicable to kids,” Hehemann said, “The program adds a community piece to education and helps kids get skills they need.” Hehemann, who’s also the head of the English Department at Columbia Crest, said  his English students’ scores have improved with the introduction of the program two years ago.

Hehemann also held In regard to Ames’ art program in high esteem.

“Eatonville Elementary was the first building I entered when investigating Eatonville School District and seeing Ames’ student’s art hung from the walls sold me immediately,” he said.

Bahr also made comment that Eatonville’s art, music and athletic programs are almost entirely funded by levy monies as the state does not consider them part of basic educational needs. Eatonville School District states online that students who participate in the arts are more successful in school and life and it will continue investing in those programs.

The Capital Bond, Eatonville’s second proposition, proposes a 10-year $5.50 a month property tax increase. The bond would make Eatonville High School’s outdoor field ADA friendly and repair its threatening safety dilemma.

“In the field’s current state, we can’t have championship games, and some teams don’t want to play here due to major safety concerns,” Bahr said. She noted that the field and track have high risk factors for sprains and concussions due to age and poor lighting. The new turf field would consist of organic cork and sand filling, fixing an uneven, poorly lit and often muddy field.

In an article by Citizens for Education, Deanna Simons of the Jr. Cruisers Football and Cheer program, stated, “… a new track and artificial turf field would allow the opportunity to host tournaments and jamborees which could bring eight to sixteen teams per weekend to Eatonville throughout the football season and into winter.” Simons and Bahr argue that increased activity from Jr. Cruisers and high school games would boost the economy to local businesses, restaurants and stores.

“The Eatonville community is known for upholding a standard of excellence; as we look to the future we will find the modernization of the EHS Track and Field continues that tradition,” states Ronda Litzenberger, board member and committee chair for Citizens for Education in the article. “Updated facilities will protect our students from harm and protect the environment by dramatically decreasing our water usage and power consumption.”

Bahr said that without the bond there will be no new field or track, and without the proposed levy, athletics will be difficult to operate.

“I love kids,” Bahr said. “I really love kids and I want to do everything I can for them. “It’s important that children are children, that they are able to play, that they feel welcome and laugh… so we give them swimming lessons and we take them on field trips. Kids should never fall through the cracks. We want our parents to be involved inside and out. It’s hard to educate and raise children but if we do it together, we can work through anything.”

Eatonville Citizens for Education and Eatonville School District will be hosting tours of the Eatonville High School’s football field at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 21, and at 10 a.m. January 25 at 200 Lynch St. Bahr will be present and discussion on the bond and levy proposals will be held.


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