Programs help create a sense of community for Camas-Washougal elementary, middle school levels

More than just academics

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One of the unique aspects of Camas and Washougal are the schools. From small buildings tucked away in Skamania County to brand new facilities with all the latest technology, the area has a bit of everything.

What makes these schools different, besides the physical structures, is the programs they have.

The Post-Record is featuring a few of these unique opportunities offered at the local schools. Some were the result of parent volunteers, others were designed by teachers or administrators.Helen Baller ElementaryAt Helen Baller in Camas, students have the opportunity to participate in a parent-led drama team, a running club or student leadership.

“It helps build community within the school,” said Aaron Parman, principal. “It allows students to shine in other areas besides the classroom. Same with the running program and student leadership. They provide different outlets for kids within the school. Kids who may not be the best students or those who are shy have a chance to get involved. They are all great programs.”

The drama team is entirely parent run, and just finished its spring production of “Munchkin Mediation: Conflict Resolution in Oz.”

“There were 40 kids up on stage performing during the assembly,” Parman said. “They all came together for a common goal.”

The school running club is an effort led by P.E. teacher Matt Rold to get students more active and give them something different to do during recess. The program starts after spring break.

“It’s an incentive to be active and healthy,” he said.

Students are given incentives every time they run a certain number of laps. Top runners were recognized at an assembly on June 12 and given T-shirt, pedometer and jump rope. The two top runners were third-graders Lukas Scharrelman (120 miles) and Shayne Swanberg (105 miles).

“For some kids, it instills a love of running and they see it’s not always fun, but they need to go do it anyway,” Rold said.

Fifth-graders also have the opportunity to participate in a student leadership team, coordinated by teacher Katie Redmond.

“It really gives kids ownership and responsibility of the school,” she said. “The focus is just anything we can do to be helpful and more positive.”

Examples this year included collecting 4,500 cans of food for Stuff the Bus in December, managing the school garden and encouraging positive behavior among students.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for kids who are not as outspoken to be recognized for things they wouldn’t be normally,” Redmond said. “We don’t hold elections, so no one is turned away.”

Grass Valley Elementary

Recycling efforts are big here, where students recently collected approximately 112,238 bottle caps for recycling. The effort was spearheaded by first-grade teacher Julie Della Valle and the student Green Team. It is the only active one at the elementary school level in Camas. The purpose of Green Teams is to challenge students and school communities to create a sustainable region through educational experiences that transform school environments.

“It is a small part of our Washington Green School efforts but on the plus side, everyone from students and staff to families and friends saved and counted caps, bagged them and hopefully also recycled the bottles that went with the caps,” Della Valle said.

The drive first came about in 2012 when the school was invited by Sorelle Spa Salon in Camas to participate in a competition for Earth Day to see which elementary school could collect the most threaded plastic bottle caps. The other three schools, Fisher’s Landing, Columbia Valley, and Illahee, had all previously participated so they had continued to save the caps all year long.

“This year, Columbia Valley and Grass Valley were the only two competing schools, and although we hauled carloads of threaded plastic bottle caps to recycling, Columbia Valley won with 132,000 to Grass Valley’s 112,238.

Sorelle rewarded participating schools with Otter Pops for each class and a $20 coupon for each staff member good towards a service at Sorelle.

“Next year we will focus on re-certifying as a Washington Green School so our main goals of reducing waste and energy consumption will be our main green goals,” Della Valle said. “However, depending on volunteer interest to run the program, we may continue to promote the cap drive at Grass Valley in the form of a grade-level competition.”

Another unique program at Grass Valle is the newly formed science club, which gave 24 fifth-graders the opportunity to participate in Science Olympiad activities. There is also a school math team, led by fifth-grade teacher Jackie Graue. It began four years ago as an outlet for fifth-grade students who have a high aptitude for math.

“These kids tend to thrive on challenges and are very competitive by nature,” Graue said. “The math problems students are required to solve are challenging, involve higher level thinking, and have multiple strategies for solving.”

Every year the team participates in the regional Math is Cool competition. Students start practicing in December and meet two to four times per week until the competition in March.

A highlight this year is that Grass Valley placed third overall out of 90 teams, with two Grass Valley students scoring so high in the individual event that they were invited to the state tournament. One of them, Jordan Chase finished third.

“I spend a lot of time and energy supporting students who struggle in math, getting their skills up to par, and improving their attitude about math,” Graue said. “It’s important that we go the extra mile for all of the students, even the ones where academics come easily. Offering a math team allows these students to see just how fun math can be, how relevant it is, and that there really is no end to just how challenging math can be.”

Cape Horn-Skye Elementary

Cape Horn-Skye, tucked away in Skamania County off Washougal River Road, is home to a science and travel club, led by fifth-grade teacher Chelsea Meats. This summer, the group will travel to Yellowstone National Park for six days to study the area.

Meats began the program as a way for students to connect to the environment that surrounds the school. The club meets on there third Friday of every month. Its members discuss topics ranging from the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park, to biofilm, fungus and indigenous rocks.

In addition, six students have signed up to participate in a six-day summer trip Meats is taking to Yellowstone to study the area.

Meats also keeps students busy researching local pollinators and growing various flowers that will be planted outside the school to provide habitat for them.

In addition to outdoor opportunities, students who enjoy getting lost in a good book can share that passion with their parents during Cape Horn’s annual “Books and Breakfast” event in June.

The school recently celebrated its eighth year of offering the program to families.

“My favorite aspect is having so many families participate and watching them read together and enjoy a good nutritious breakfast at the same time,” said Mary Lou Woody, principal. “Also, I love that we can provide such an event to our families. It is one of the ways our staff gives back to our families.”

The staff arrives at 6 a.m. to prepare for the event and for parents who may arrive a few minutes early due to work schedules. Approximately 150 to 200 people attend each year, and dine on ham and cheese bagels, muffins, fruit and juice while reading together. Students get to keep a book.

This year, Woody attended a Fort Vancouver Regional Library book sale and purchased 200 hardback books for readers in preschool through middle school.

“I asked some of my students what they enjoy most and the majority said they like coming to school to eat our breakfast,” Woody said.

Approximately 200 people attended this year’s event.

“It was a wonderful way to end our school year,” Woody said. “The students loved being able to choose a book and took their time to choose just the right one.”

Canyon Creek Middle School

Located next to Cape Horn-Skye, the middle school includes a chess club and National Junior Honor Society among its unique programs. But one that has really had an impact is the Positive Behavior Intervention Support program (PBIS) in which the entire school participates.

“We started this program because of the great things we had heard from other schools that used the program,” said sixth-grade teacher Lori Schilling.

Jemtegaard Middle School also uses the program, which was detailed in an earlier article in the Post-Record.

“A team of us went to the PBIS Conference last spring to see what this was all about. We came back excited to implement at our school, hoping to build the culture and continue promoting a positive learning environment,” Schilling said.

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports is described as a school-wide, proactive approach to establishing the behavioral supports needed for all students to achieve social, emotional and academic success.

A team of teachers, staff members, the school counselor and principal work together.

“We bring ideas, strategies, and lessons to the staff meetings to brainstorm the best ‘next steps’ for our school,” Schilling said. “Last spring we started at ground zero. We wanted to decrease the amount of discipline referrals and continue improving the culture of our school.”

The group created a new referral system that focused on the common expectations around the school of acting respectful, being responsible, and conducting self safely.

“We have seen a dramatic decrease in discipline referrals in several areas,” Schilling said. “It’s been exciting to see such a change.”

Several businesses, families in the community, the CCMS Boosters and Associated Student Body donated rewards for the “Cougar Card” drawings, part of the incentive program. Some of the rewards throughout the year have included weekly Jack-in-the-Box meals, big stuffed animals, pens/pencils, gum reward days, a Kindle, hair products, manicures and T-shirts.

“A few of us from the team created a letter telling about the program and passed them out to businesses in the Washougal/Camas area and have received a lot of support,” Schilling said. “We hope to gain even more support in the coming years.”